Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Assad has been defeating his enemies in the Core Syria of western Syria based around the coast and Damascus. But I still have my doubts that Assad's forces can endure the casualties that they have been taking long enough to win back the country--or even hold what they have.

From the brink of seeming defeat, Assad has recovered his balance through the contraction of his realm to western Syria, Iranian advisers, Iranian and Russian material support, new loyal militias, and foreign (mostly Iraqi) and Hezbollah shock troops.

But Assad's forces have in just a few years (and the first year was fairly low level fighting) suffered troop losses more than ten times our losses in the longer Iraq War.

Despite the victories over their enemies, Assad's enemies can still sting him:

Last week, 700 people died in two days in Syria, in what has been described as the deadliest 48-hour period in the country since its conflict began more than four years ago. And 1,700 are reported to have died in the last seven days, in one of the worst weeks on record.

Total casualties are north of 170,000, with a third civilians. Of the rest, about 60% are government troops and militias. The rest are rebel casualties--including intra-rebel fighting casualties. I assume the recent casualties are a mix of these deaths.

The jihadis remain particularly cruel, as they were a week ago in northern Syria:

In the two-day assault on the base in Raqa province, an IS bastion, the jihadists killed at least 85 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

More than 50 troops were summarily executed, 19 others were killed in a double suicide bombing and at least 16 more died in the assault launched early Thursday.

The remainder of the Syrian troops retreated from the base.

And even a Syrian government success highlights the price Assad's forces are paying to tilt the war their way:

But government forces retook the key Shaar gas field in Homs province, nearly a week after it fell to IS, who killed some 270 government troops in the attack, the Observatory said.

Or merely clever:

Opposition forces in Syria exploded bombs in tunnels under Aleppo late on Tuesday and killed at least 13 fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the northern city, a group tracking the violence said.

The bombs were placed in two tunnels running under historic parts of the city close to an old police station, said the Observatory, a Britain-based group which reports on Syria, using a network of sources on the ground.

Yes, Assad's forces are winning on the battlefield. But Assad's forces have not beaten the rebels and driven them from the field--not even the non-jihadis starved of Western support so far.

And Assad's forces are suffering staggering casualties among a small population base to achieve his very limited and localized victories.

I just don't assume that Assad's forces can endure this level of casualties without breaking. One day, his troops will not be willing to even support the Hezbollah and Shia foreign legion shock troops that have led Assad's attacks over the last year.