Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Where are the Reserves?

Damascus is again on the frontline of Assad's defense perimeter. Unless Russia intervenes, where can Assad find the troops to defend this city and the lines of communication to it from the north?

Here we go:

The Observatory said more than 50 shells hit central Damascus in a bombardment by insurgents that wounded 60 people. The state news agency put the death toll at five.

Central Damascus, Assad's seat of power, has been mostly spared the worst of the conflict.

Given that Assad is losing his outer defense perimeter for Damascus in the east, this attack is likely the shape of things to come.

But Assad's ground forces are bleeding and staggering. Hezbollah is stretched providing shock troops for Assad. And can Iran really strengthen their Shia foreign legion fighting for Assad?

Where do more troops come from to fight the new threat to Damascus?

Perhaps if Russia intervenes to free up some Syrian troops, Assad could redeploy to the capital.

But the Russians don't want to send troops into a war. They just want a pageant to show off Putin's swagger on the world stage (See? We matter!). So they'd need a deal with Turkey that allows Turkey to enforce their safe zone in the north in a way that harms jihadi abilities to fight and survive in the north; while also reducing the chance of a direct Turkey-Syria clash.

There is this to ponder:

Syria's warring parties declared a 48-hour ceasefire in a frontline area on Wednesday after a month of unprecedented mediation from Turkey and Iran, signaling a new approach by some regional powers backing opposing sides in the conflict.

The ceasefire halted fighting between insurgents on the one hand, and the army and its Lebanese militant Hezbollah allies on the other, in the rebel-held town of Zabadani and in a pair of Shi'ite Muslim villages in Idlib province.

Might Turkey cut a deal with Russia where Turkey polices the north and Russia polices the south along a front defined by a Turkish safe zone and a Russian zone?

Turkey might think they want to play a bit of a Russia card, notwithstanding Turkey's NATO membership:

An American military source told Fox News that US military leaders were "outraged" when Turkey began launching airstrikes against the Kurdish PKK in northern Iraq just hours after striking a deal with the US opposing the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh.

Remember, too, that Assad recently pulled back in the northwest under enemy pressure and are dangerously close to their core area of support--and not long after he confessed his army was under tremendous pressure.

Might Assad go along with a Russian-Turkish deal in order to protect the core of his Alawite supporters so he can free up troops to hold the capital?

I'd hate to be in the strategy meetings Assad will have to hold to decide whether the Alawite homeland or Damascus is the region he has to abandon because he has too few troops to hold both.

Because at that point, Assad would need to transfer his capital to the coast and evacuate assets and supporters from Damascus.

UPDATE: I always figured that Latakia would be a likely new capital if Assad abandons Damascus.

But it might be out of the frying pan and into the fire:

Two people were killed and 14 wounded Thursday in a rare rebel rocket attack on the provincial capital of President Bashar al-Assad's coastal heartland, a monitoring group said.

Still, with a lot of troops freed up by abandoning a lot of territory around Damascus, Assad could--if his troops still have fight left in them--secure Latakia and points north.

Unless Turkey is haggling with Putin, they say their safe zone won't include Turkish troops:

Turkey does not expect to deploy ground forces in Syria to fight Islamic State but that option should remain on the table, Foreign Minister Mevult Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

Perhaps the Turks just really want to attack Kurds.