Friday, June 23, 2017

Zombie Army

This FMSO short paper addresses the dramatic shift of the Syrian army (Syrian Arab Army: SyAA) from an army to a hybrid army-militia force:

The SyAA is itself held together by a diffuse network of volunteer militias that are plugged into its chain of command and patronage system at different nodes of the system, making the SyAA all the more resilient.

The SyAA remains the single strongest force in the country in terms of weaponry and reach. Its impending demise has been a constant of Syrian conflict analyses ever since 2012. This prediction, often based on decontextualized analysis of shifts in territorial control, has overlooked the important ways in which the SyAA has adapted to the ongoing conflict. Barring direct intervention by hostile foreign powers, the SyAA’s main battlefield threat will remain its own ineptitude and corruption, rather than the rebel forces.

I admit I kept looking for the Syrian army to collapse. But I based it on casualties and not territory.

Indeed, early on I assumed Assad had to give up territory to survive.

The monograph also says that the Alawites grew tired of dying for Assad and wanted someone else to step up. That too was part of my repeated question of how much more could the army endure in defense of the minority Alawite government.

I termed the transformation as one of the Syrian army becoming fiefdoms that in many ways resembled an advise and assist force with a backbone of logistics and heavy weapons fleshed out by militias--both domestic and foreign:

The Syrian army has collapsed. In a way it is like an advise and support force of firepower, armor, and logistics backed by air power sent in to help poorly trained local forces fight their war. And without local forces--whether Syrian or imported militias--the Syrian army would be unable to fight the war.

Without an army as we understand it, Assad does not truly control Syria. Regional entities based on the army divisions run their areas as sub-state sovereigns.

I've stopped asking whether the army will collapse. But I wouldn't be shocked if portions of it did collapse or quietly (or not so quietly) pull out of Assad's war effort.

The Syrian army really has suffered heavy casualties. Perhaps it can't die. But it does not live.