For a long time I've written that Assad's best hope to survive is to abandon the provinces to hold the core west--ideally in an arc from the Turkish border down to the borders with Israel and Jordan.
I admitted that abandoning the territory and loyal people in the non-core area would be difficult.
But the math isn't working out--even after Iran's heavy commitment to reinforcing Syria with a Shia foreign legion and a Hezbollah assault force.
As I noted, Assad's forces are stretched and have suffered defeats in the north, center, and south.
The media has noted this, too:
It was a bruising week for Syria's Bashar Assad. The rapid collapse of his forces on two fronts in the north and south brought the opposition its biggest victories in two years, raising serious questions about the president's ability to fend off increasingly sophisticated rebel campaigns. ...
"It seems that Assad is still trying to bite off more of Syria than he can swallow," he wrote. The Idlib defeat "underlines how dangerously overstretched his regime has become."
This article mentions the losses in the center and writes that Assad's forces can't hold without those Shia foreign legion or Hezbollah fighters:
Bonsey said the losses in Daraa and Idlib were part of "a larger pattern" of the regime being pushed out of areas where it cannot commit significant forces or count on backing from its regional allies, Iran and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.
When first committed, these Iranian-sponsored units were the shock troops that cleared the enemy, allowing Assad's shakier forces to hold the ground taken.
Now it seems that Assad's forces are incapable of carrying out the "hold" role in "clear and hold."
Which makes it a problem for Assad's forces holding Fort Apaches out in the provinces if they are counting on being rescued by Assad's core region.
Assad has essentially abandoned the bulk of his territory, but his forces do hold outposts in all of the country, as this article on the fall of Idlib in northern Syria explains:
“It’s a significant defeat for the regime, and it’s going to challenge the regime’s strategy,” he said, pointing out that, until now, the government had seemed determined to hold onto all of the capitals of the country’s 14 provinces to demonstrate that its reach still extends throughout the country.
Yes, Raqqa already fell. But it could be excused as an isolated event. Now Idlib--which was within Assad's core region rather than an isolate outpost--falls? That is something those outpost garrisons are going to notice.
The potential for many defeats on a larger scale than Assad experienced at Tabqa air base would be greater if the rebels got their act together and had a mobile striking force to concentrate power against these isolated outposts.
Perhaps the rebels we are training--as small as the raw numbers are--could provide this capability.
And perhaps Assad will have to seriously consider abandoning those outposts and the hopes they represent for ruling all of Syria, and retreating to a core Alawite-dominated state that at best included Damascus and at worst doesn't include Damascus as the capital, and is just a coastal enclave with an inland buffer zone.
And would Assad try to carve out some territory from Lebanon, too?
Would Russia commit his own troops to preserve this Alawite state to keep his base at Tartus?
The idea that it is futile to aid acceptable rebels because Assad will win is wrong, and leaves the fate of a post-Assad Syria to the jihadi rebels who did not accept that Assad's victory was inevitable as so many in the West have said the last couple years.