Sunday, May 24, 2015

Collateral Damage

Assad wants his outnumbered supporters to believe they have no choice but to back him to stop the vicious jihadis. But highlighting ISIL brutality without demonstrating the ability to defeat ISIL will lead his troops to react more like Iraqi troops who recently broke and run from Ramadi against a smaller ISIL attacking force.

Assad should reconsider the wisdom of this type of information warfare designed in part to make the West believe siding with Assad is the lesser of two evils:

Islamic State fighters have executed at least 400 people in Palmyra since capturing the ancient Syrian city four days ago, Syrian state media said on Sunday.

And that's on top of the security force casualties in the losing battle:

[The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] says at least 300 soldiers were killed in the days of fighting before the city was captured.

"A bigger number of troops have disappeared and it is not clear where they are," Rami Abdulrahman from the Observatory told Reuters.

And this is problematic, too:

Assad, quoted by state news agency SANA late Friday, saluted the "heroism" of some 150 soldiers and their families who were able to escape a hospital building in the town of Jisr al-Shughur in northwestern Syria.

"You represent with your heroism the soldiers of the Syrian army," Assad told their commanding officer, Colonel Mahmud Sabha.

"You resisted because you refused failure or capitulation," Assad said.

"Your life and those of the soldiers of the army and the national defence forces (pro-regime militia) are the most important thing for us and what we try always to protect."

Assad can praise the bravery of his troops and assure them that their safety is always on his mind, but if the context is repeated defeats at the hands of rebels--and a rising government body count--who keep advancing, the words will be very hollow.

At some point, dying for a losing cause so Assad can enjoy a few more months in his palace won't seem like the best way to protect your family from jihadis--deserting with as much ammo as you can carry in order to escort your family to a border and escape jihadi advances will seem like the wiser course of action.

Emphasizing the brutality of the jihadis without demonstrating the ability to kill and defeat the jihadis will just convince Assad's army and national defense force militias that the time to escape while you can is the safest thing to do.

UPDATE: More on the fall of the hospital and the escape of some of the defenders and their families:

Assaf said the besieged soldiers all felt that "being killed outside the hospital would be better than being inside when it exploded."

Earlier this month, President Bashar al-Assad had pledged not to abandon the soldiers, who have been hailed in regime-controlled areas as heroes following their escape.

While dozens escaped, others were killed in the fierce fighting around the hospital complex as army units backed up their trapped comrades.

There was no rescue.