Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Beginning of the End

Syria's rebels are focusing more on Assad than each other lately, and that is causing Assad to lose ground and troops.

Rebels are making gains in the extreme north and extreme south:

At the end of March, Syrian rebels captured the north-western provincial capital of Idlib as government forces fled in the face of a co-ordinated offensive.

The rebels followed up the victory by taking control of the town of Jisr al-Shughour, several villages and the al-Qarmid military base. ...

When Jaish al-Fatah captured Idlib, another rebel coalition fighting far to the south took control of the Nassib border crossing with Jordan.

The Southern Front, which includes various groups from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and some Islamist brigades, is now talking of co-ordination with other groups in Deraa province and in the Damascus countryside.

Assad has repositioned troops to hold the line before rebels can push into Assad's bastion of support closer to the coast:

Islamist rebels and the Syrian army fought fierce battles in Latakia province overnight close to President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral home, the army and rebels said, after weeks of insurgent gains in the country's northwest.

Rebels seeking to topple Assad have in the past sought to bring their four-year-long insurgency close to coastal areas in government-held Latakia, heartland of Assad's minority Alawite community.

But will Assad's troops be able to help these troops cut off in the latest rebel advance?

Nearly 150 Syrian soldiers have been besieged inside a hospital in Jisr al-Shughur since opposition forces including an Al-Qaeda affiliate seized the town last week, a monitor said Thursday.

Could one more slaughter be the event that pushes things over? I just don't know how many times Assad's supporters can recover from defeats and still believe that they can see victory.

Certainly, after all the casualties, Assad's supporters now have to calculate their chances of surviving personally even if Assad's government can hold on.

Assad's forces never have secured Aleppo and now find that they are at the gates of their core regime supporters but with an army shaky from losses in that futile battle. I did say that Aleppo looked like a bridge too far.

More and more, trying to hold Damascus and a buffer around the city is too much for Assad's strained ground forces to achieve.

At some point soon, Assad will have to transfer the capital of Syria to the Alawite heartland if he is to contract his realm to a scope his depleted troops can hold (if they aren't too shaky already) and still claim to be governing "Syria" with its UN seat and all that.

A retreat to that kind of rump Syria without making that formal transfer just makes Assad a regional warlord in the territory of Syria with the ownership of legal Syria up for grabs for whoever marches into Damascus and plants their flag.

And we've mucked things up so much that we don't have a solid rebel faction to carry that flag.

This may not be the beginning of the end for Assad. But I think it is at least the beginning of the end for Assad's ambitions to control Damascus and core Syria, and at least pretend to have authority over all of Syria.

Those outposts that Assad still holds east of his core western campaign could likely be the scenes of some pretty bad slaughters.

I just thank God we didn't "militarize" the conflict way back when.

UPDATE: Less than a week later, one of those outposts is under jihadi attack:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 pro-government forces and 15 IS extremists had been killed since clashes began late Wednesday in the city of Deir Ezzor and around its nearby military airport.

The head of aerial defence at the airport -- one of the few areas left in regime hands in Deir Ezzor province -- was killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

Four government soldiers were beheaded by IS Thursday as the jihadists seized a key checkpoint in the city near the air base.

How many military disasters can Assad absorb without losing the faith of his backers?