Sunday, March 29, 2015

And in Syria

Assad is not out of the woods in his war.

Jihadis made gains in the north:

An alliance of Syrian Islamist rebels including al Qaeda's Nusra Front have overrun 17 defense posts around Idlib in an offensive to take the city from the army and allied militia, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

They've exploited this to actually capture Idlib:

Syrian rebels captured the key northern city of Idlib from government forces Saturday in what amounts to the most significant defeat for forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in two years.

The rebel force, led by the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, surged into the city center overnight Saturday and by day’s end had ousted government forces almost entirely.

I did mention that by shipping forces to the deep south, Assad had to be taking risks by stripping forces from other areas.

Assad already lost ground around Aleppo in the north.

And more normal rebels are making some gains in the south:

An alliance of mainstream rebels who are backed by Western and Arab foes of President Bashar al-Assad said they had taken Bosra and declared the start of a new attack against government forces in another area of Deraa province to the northwest.

I'll ask it again, how much more can Assad's battered and stretched army endure?

Assad is actually putting women into combat positions:

Sergeant Rim, 20, and Chief Sergeant Samar, 21, belong to the First Women's Commando Brigade of the Republican Guard, an elite unit stationed on some of the most dangerous battlegrounds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

There are roughly 800 soldiers in these all-female commando brigades, who face determined and entrenched rebels to the east and southeast of Damascus.

No, Assad isn't some feminist pioneer to spit in the face of Moslem sensibilities about the proper role of women in society. He's friggin' desperate to find bodies.

God help those women if jihadis capture them.

Or if they survive the war and have to explain to their own side what they did once the danger is in the past. Yeah, they'll be considered good wife material, eh?

Assad certainly thinks it is worth the risk (well, maybe with this administration it isn't much of a risk) to use chemical weapons to try to even the odds:

The world's chemical watchdog on Wednesday said it is monitoring "with serious concern" reports alleging that Damascus unleashed a chlorine gas attack in northwestern Syria earlier this month.

"We have been monitoring the recent reports suggesting that toxic chemicals may have been used as weapons in the Idlib province in Syria," Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.

And Assad is looking for Russian boots on the ground, too:

"I can say with complete confidence that we welcome any widening of the Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean and on Syrian coasts and ports," including the port of Tartus, Assad said.

"For us, the larger this presence in our neighbourhood, the better it is for stability in this region," he told journalists.

Which would be helpful if Assad has to retreat to a rump Alawite homeland.

Both Iran and Syria are under tremendous stress. And they both seem to be counting on us to ultimately save them. I can't say they are wrong.

UPDATE: Assad's finances are in bad shape:

Syria's government, presiding over an economy ravaged by war and facing dwindling foreign currency reserves, is taking new measures to slash imports and prop up exports.

And rebels in the south are active:

"Fierce fighting over the control of the Nasib border crossing with Jordan erupted early this morning between Islamists and rebels and regime forces, with the rebels putting the crossing under siege," said the Britain-based [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights].

Assad has not won this war.

UPDATE: Assad's stretched ground forces have suffered a setback in Damascus itself:

Islamic State militants infiltrated a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on Wednesday, marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into the capital, seat of President Bashar al-Assad's power, Syrian opposition activists and Palestinian officials said.

Assad is trying to hold too much ground with the troops he has available.