Saturday, January 31, 2015

Holding On--For Now

Assad has managed to hold his ground in his corner of Syria. But keeping it for long is in question, let alone expanding out of his core Syria to regain all of Syria.

For all the talk of Assad winning the war lately, I did not see him as winning so much as halting his defeat. Strategypage seems to see it the same way:

The Assad government’s worst problems are not in Syria. Pro-Iran businessmen in Syria and their counterparts in Iran agree (usually off the record) that the plunging oil price threatens the generous and critical Iranian financial support for the beleaguered Assad dictatorship in Syria. Russian support is also threatened by the lower oil prices. Even with continued Iranian military support, Assad really, really depends on the financial support to maintain the loyalty of the few (less than a quarter) Syrians that support him to one degree or another. Because of that, and the damage ISIL has done to the rebel alliance (which has been fighting a civil war with itself since early 2014) the war has been going a little better for the Assads lately. In southern and central Syria (south and north of Damascus), pro Assad forces have actually been regaining some ground, or at least losing less. Along the coast the army and pro-government militias have been able to expel rebels and form a continuous Assad controlled area reaching into central Syria and the capital (Damascus). Thanks to Iranian trainers, the pro-government militias are better trained and more effective as are the soldiers. All of these men are paid regularly and most see a better future than do many of the rebel fighters. The army is about half its pre-war strength of 300,000 but the remaining troops are loyal and most have combat experience. The army is trying to expand back to its pre-war strength, which may not be possible.

And Assad's problems inside Syria are pretty bad. Consider that a lot of people wondered if we were breaking our Army in Iraq with far lower casualties and 15-month tours (for a short time).

Now consider what Assad's far smaller ground forces are enduring with no rotation home.

I once said Assad needed a whole new war to win. He went part of the way by falling back to a core Syria. Despite our de facto air support (against ISIL, one of his enemies), it seems highly unlikely that Assad can push out of his core Syria.

Indeed, I still doubt he can hang on to his core if he has to fight this hard to retain it.