Sunday, June 21, 2015

They Shall Pass

The problem for Assad isn't that he is losing Aleppo. The problem is that he fought for it in the first place and lost too many troops fighting for an objective that was beyond his capacity to control even if he captured it.

Assad could soon lose his toe-hold in Aleppo:

"There is a decisive final blow coming that will expel the regime from Aleppo and to liberate the city completely," said Abdul Rahim, a member of the Nour al Din al Zinki rebel group that has been a recipient of foreign support. He was speaking to an opposition-affiliated TV station, Halab Today.

The city's fall would be a major blow for Assad, restricting his control mainly to a belt of territory stretching north from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast. This would deepen Syria's de facto partition between the Assad-run west and other areas held by a patchwork of armed groups.

Aiming to hold Aleppo was beyond Assad's military capabilities.

And his army couldn't afford the casualties required to take and hold it.

So now Assad will lose Aleppo and won't have the soldiers and equipment he lost futilely trying to hold the city as he falls back to a core Syria.

As a result, Assad might find that he has too few reliable troops to hold even Damascus.

I anticipate--as I've speculated in the past based on the idea that Assad has too few troops to extend his control that far south--a formal transfer of the capital to the coast so that no matter how little territory Assad controls, he will still have the UN seat and be considered the legal government of Syria.

Indeed, Jane's (from my email updates) says that the loss of Palmyra could prompt such a move:

Capture of Palmyra increases likelihood of sudden Syrian army withdrawal from Damascus to the Alawite coastal homeland ...

The insurgents' ability to target hitherto relatively safe civilian areas, and to penetrate government core areas, makes it increasingly likely that Syrian government forces will withdraw, with or without orders, from their current areas of operation, such as Aleppo and Deraa to defend the Alawite homeland.

Of course, then Iran loses a line of supply west of Damascus to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran might have to make do with access through northern Lebanon. Which might mean that Hezbollah will seek to expand areas of control to that part of Lebanon.

Might Assad try to expand his area of control into northern Lebanon, too, as I mentioned here?

Trying to hold Aleppo was a major error by Assad. The only bright spot is that it is too smashed up to be much of an asset to the rebels who will hold it.

UPDATE: Syria isn't ready to pull out of the capital yet:

Syria's army advanced this weekend west of the ancient city of Palmyra, reopening a key supply route for oil and gas to the capital, a newspaper and monitoring group said Monday.

We'll see if Assad can afford to commit troops out there--and if they can win.