November 26, 2012: The government continues to use air strikes and artillery fire against civilians. This is causing panic among many civilians and driving more people from their homes (and often out of the country). This is seen as advantageous to the government, as it drives away people who would support the rebels. But it’s not enough to save the government, whose tactics have led to increased rebel operations to capture air bases and the small camps that artillery battalions operate from. While the largest air bases can (for now) be defended, the smaller ones and the artillery positions cannot. These are being taken and destroyed. The government cannot replace these losses and government supporters know it. Best guess now is that the Assads won’t survive the Winter, especially as the Assads seem determined to continue killing civilians until the end.
NATO is still debating whether to send Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries to Turkey, to help protect Turkish air space from increasingly aggressive Syrian warplanes. If the Patriot systems (most likely German) are sent, it would commit other NATO countries more to possible intervention in Syria. The rebel National Coalition is also approaching NATO and Arab nations (at least those with a lot of money) about contributing to a $60 billion reconstruction fund.
Even as the rebels have formed a new governing council (the Syrian National Coalition) the rebel fighters are splintering. Most are part of the National Coalition but at least ten percent are Islamic radical groups that refuse to recognize the National Coalition and insist that post-Assad Syria be a religious dictatorship. Then there are over 50,000 armed Kurds who will cooperate with the National Coalition but not be subordinate to it. In the northeast Islamic terror groups, siding with the rebels, have been fighting Kurdish gunmen in Ras al Ain, a town near the Turkey border. At the same time most of the Syrian Kurdish militias have openly allied with the Kurdish government that runs northern Iraq. But the most radical Kurdish group, the PYD, has not. The PYD is allied with the PKK (the radical separatist Turkish Kurd group) and is doing most of the fighting against Islamic radical rebels along the Turkish border. The Islamic radicals do not get along with the Kurds in general, mainly because the Iraqi Kurds have opposed, often violently, Islamic radical factions in their midst. For the last decade Iraqi Islamic terror groups have been unable to operate, or even obtain sanctuary in northern (Kurdish controlled) Iraq. The Kurds maintained tight border controls and efficient counter-terror operations in the Kurdish north. The security was so good that Iraqi Arabs visited hotels and resorts in the Kurdish north to get away from all the Islamic terrorist violence down south. While the terrorism in the south became less of a problem after 2008, Iraqi Arabs still like to visit the Kurdish north, which is more efficiently run and simply more comfortable than the Arab run rest of Iraq. The Syrian Kurds see themselves in the same situation and have let the Syrian rebels know it. Most members of the new National Coalition are willing to unofficially go along with this, as long as the Kurds drive government forces out of their territory. But many Islamic radical rebel factions are willing to fight the Kurds for control of the northeast. The Kurds will probably win this one and they won’t be able to blame the National Coalition because most Islamic radical rebels have refused to join the National Coalition.
While the rebels have achieved some kind of alliance with the Kurds, the Palestinians are still divided. South of Damascus, in the largest Syrian refugee camps (Yarmouk, population 150,000, about 30 percent of the Palestinians in Syria) fighting continued between Palestinians loyal to the camp leadership (a Palestinian terrorist organization, which has long enjoyed the support of the Assads) and Palestinians who support the rebels. Palestinians realize that if the rebels win, and it looks like they will, they will be driven out, unless pro-rebel Palestinians take control of Palestinian refugee camps (which are actually separate towns or neighborhoods occupied and run by Palestinians). Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that controls Gaza, had long received support from the Assads. But under pressure from major donors (oil-rich Sunni Arabs) to oppose the Iran-backed Assads, Hamas has switched sides. Earlier this year Hamas moved its headquarters out of Syria and openly denounced the Assads. Hamas apparently also told the Syrian Palestinians to oppose Assad if they wanted Hamas and other Arab states to persuade the new rebel government to allow “loyal” Palestinians to remain and avoid retribution. Palestinians are 1.7 percent of the population.
Despite the rebel factionalism, the government continues to lose ground, and manpower, while the rebels gain territory and strength. In the last week the rebels have captured part or all of five military bases. Most importantly, the rebels obtained thousands of weapons and large quantities of ammunition along the way. Government resistance in these bases collapsed, as much as it was defeated and most of the abandoned weapons and ammo were not destroyed by the retreating troops.
The rebels have captured two of the three oil fields in the southeast. Syrian oil exports were 350,000 barrels a day and a major source of foreign currency for buying foreign goods. Now most of that capacity is controlled by the rebels. At the moment the rebels are giving oil away to whoever can show up with a truck capable of carrying the stuff. Syrian oil is known as “light crude” and can be burned for heating or cooking as it comes out of the ground. Most of the people running the captured oil fields were Alawites and fled. The rebels are seeking other oil field technical personnel to help get production going. The search is difficult because the government can use its aircraft to bomb the captured fields as soon as it appears certain that the rebels cannot be dislodged. At the moment sanctions prevent Syria from exporting its oil. With cold weather coming on, many civilians would like the oil just to keep warm (even if the light crude is smelly and smoky when burned).
November 25, 2012: A small helicopter base on the outskirts of Damascus was captured by rebels. Fifteen soldiers and quantities of weapons were also captured. Two helicopters were destroyed and two were captured. A radar station, part of the national network, was also destroyed.
November 24, 2012: Rebels captured the Marj al Sultan air base outside Damascus. Video showed several rebel armored vehicles being used in the operation.
In Lebanon police arrested five Syrian Sunnis and accused them of planning to use explosives they were captured with to bomb Shia religious festivities. A Shia minority has run Syria since the 1960s and in Lebanon (which also has a Shia minority), the Iran-backed Hezbollah Shia militia has controlled most of southern Lebanon since the 1980s and has a stranglehold on the elected government of Lebanon. Thus there is a lot of tension between Shia and non-Shia (Lebanon has a large Christian minority) in Syria and Lebanon.
November 21, 2012: Rebels captured the Mayadeen army base. Located on the Euphrates River, this is the largest military base in eastern Syria and marks the end of any government control on the Iraqi border. Another base, near Aleppo and the Turkish border, was also taken.
November 19, 2012: Rebels have taken part of the Sheikh Suleiman army base outside Aleppo. Government troops are resisting, but the rebels keep coming and are determined to capture the base and the artillery that operated there (firing on any rebel controlled towns and villages within range).