Pakistan has joined 68 other nations and closed its embassy in Damascus and sent the diplomatic staff and their families home. All Pakistani nationals were advised to leave but at least 40 have stayed and are at risk of kidnapping, or worse, by rebel groups.
The GDP has shrunk at least 20 percent this year and inflation is running at over 40 percent. Foreign currency reserves held by the government will be gone within the year, even with continued cash flown in by Iran. The government is already having a hard time feeding and paying that fraction (less than ten percent) of the population that supports the Assads. Discipline in the military is weakening and few Assad supporters are willing to fight to the death for a lost cause. In the capital gunfire can be heard from the presidential palace, although few know exactly where dictator Basher Assad is hiding out these days.
Syria denied that it has chemical weapons (it always has) or that it is preparing to use these weapons it does not have. This is in response to media reports (sparked by leaked intelligence reports, or rumors) that there was activity around bunkers said to hold Syrian chemical weapons and that some of the chemicals were being loaded into bombs and artillery shells. Once that is done the bombs and shells must be used soon because these containers are more subject to leakage than the industrial type storage tanks the mustard or nerve gas are normally kept in. Western governments, especially the United States, have announced that they will send in troops to seize the chemical weapons if the Syrian military uses them or there is any risk that Islamic radical groups are about to capture them. The latter seems more likely and the U.S. is apparently preparing to send in special operations troops to seize these weapons, or use special incendiary bombs to burn them up.
In the northeast Islamic terror groups, siding with the rebels, continue 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. Most members of the new National Coalition are willing to unofficially go along with Kurdish autonomy, 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 but it’s taking a long time.
Fewer foreigners (from Lebanon and Iran) are being encountered, indicating that Iran has decided that the Assads are doomed and is trying to limit its losses. Meanwhile, there are more pro-rebel foreigners coming in (from Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon).
December 11, 2012: After two days of heavy fighting, which left nearly 40 soldiers dead, rebels have seized control of the Sheik Suleiman army base outside Aleppo. The base consists of 200 hectares (500 acres) of largely empty terrain in the hills some 25 kilometers from Aleppo. Some Islamic radical groups led the attack on the base and took heavy casualties that they would not give details on.
The U.S. has joined most other Moslem and Western states and recognized the newly organized Syrian National Coalition (SNC). This is an organization mainly of groups inside Syria, as opposed to other coalitions that had a lot of Syrian expatriates in leadership positions. The U.S. won’t supply weapons to any of these groups but will supply lots of cash and other aid for refugees and some of the rebel fighters. The U.S. delayed its recognition until the SNC could disown the largest Islamic radical militia in Syria (the Al Nusra Front). The problem with any united Syrian rebel organization is that, to be truly representative, it will have to contain Islamic radical groups that are dedicated to turning Syria into a base for Islamic terrorist activities against Israel and the West.
In what appeared to be a retaliation operation, rebels attacked an Alawite village (Aqrab in central Syrian Hama province) and killed or wounded over 120 people. The village was thought to be a base for pro-Assad militiamen who had been attacking Sunni civilians. The Assad family and their core supporters are all Alawites (a sect of Shia Islam). Alawites are fleeing the cities and central Syria and heading for western Syria (along the coast) where Alawites are the majority and the group can better defend itself from the majority of Syrians who hate them. While Alawites are about ten percent of the population, they received a disproportionate amount of benefits from the Alawite run dictatorship. Not all Alawites did well from this policy, but even some of those who did (like senior army officers) are defecting. Some are allowing the defections to be publicized, which puts family members at risk of retaliation by the government. Sunnis are over 80 percent of the population.
December 10, 2012: The U.S. declared The Al Nusra Front, the largest Islamic radical group in Syria, as a terrorist organization and imposed sanctions. Al Nusra is a coalition of groups, some of them long-time guests of the Assad government (which always provided sanctuary for terrorists who would behave inside Syria), who want to turn Syria into a religious dictatorship and a base for attacks on the United States and Israel. That sort of rhetoric is often used to attract truly determined and fanatic young men who are willing to die for the cause. Since Al Nusra is already openly seeking the destruction of the United States, having a similar pledge thrown at it by America doesn’t change much. Al Nusra is believed to have several thousand armed men fighting inside Syria and hundreds of technicians and others skilled at planning and carrying out terrorist attacks (especially suicide bombings).
December 7, 2012: Some 500 representatives from rebel groups met in Turkey to replace the Free Syrian Army with the Supreme Military Council (SMC). The 30 members of the SMC are all from organizations with men fighting inside Syria. The SMC is part of the newly formed SNC.
December 6, 2012: In the last two days, Jordanian border guards arrested six armed Jordanians attempting to enter Syria and join the rebels. Many more were believed to have gotten in. There are some 200,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Over ten percent of all Syrians have been driven from their homes by the fighting.
Rebels have declared the Damascus airport a war zone and warned people, especially foreigners, to stay away from it. The government has sent thousands of troops and several hundred armored vehicles to the airport to defend it. But the rebels keep getting closer to the airport and will eventually be able to fire mortar shells into it.