Syria: Grind The Assads Down


January 11, 2013:   The main allies of the rebels (NATO, especially Turkey and the Arab Gulf states) are not supplying as many weapons as the rebels want (for fear of Islamic radical groups getting them) but are providing intelligence, training, food, and medical aid. The government also needs this stuff to maintain morale among its troops and civilians supporters. Iran and Russia, the main government allies, are not able to supply this stuff and are urging the Assads to go into exile. Maintaining control of the country is becoming more difficult as the government runs out of money and access to supplies. The rebel allies control most of the borders and can block access for government supplies. This access control is also seen inside the country, where rebels and government forces each control a patchwork of roads throughout the country. The government and the rebels are trying to starve out each other’s civilian supporters. Both sides call on foreign aid groups (especially the UN ones) to supply food and then try to control what gets into the country (to get it to their supporters and deny it to enemy civilians). The result is lots more civilians going hungry and a growing decline in economic activity. Most Syrians are more concerned with their personal survival, not who will win the civil war. Thus food and other supplies are a major weapon and the rebels have a key edge here. Most Syrians will vote with their stomachs and support whoever can feed them. Lacking more military support from NATO and Arab countries, the rebels have decided that they will just have to go long and grind the Assads down.

The rebels have a problem with law and order. Once the government forces are driven out of an area, there is much less law and order and criminals are taking advantage of it. Since the rebels are a loose confederation, they are unable to establish a single ruling authority in liberated areas. Attempts to remedy this are hobbled by the need to provide maximum support to those fighting government forces.

In the north (Idlib province) rebels have gained control over most of the Taftanaz air base. This is a major source of air support and helicopter transport for government forces up there. The base also sits astride a main road between the cities of Idlib and Aleppo. The rebels have been concentrating on taking air bases for the last few months in order to reduce the government use of air attacks and helicopter transport. Most of the air attacks hit civilians and the helicopter transport enables the government forces to move around despite rebel control of more roads.

Western countries (including Turkey) continue to refuse to intervene militarily, like they did in Libya. The problem is that such intervention is a no-win proposition. Islamic radicals condemn such intervention as a “Western invasion” and Arab populations, and their governments, are conditioned to agree with this and support more terrorism against the West. Arab governments like to pretend this attitude does not exist but it quite obviously does. So the West supplies non-combat aid and hopes for the best, while the Arab world blames everyone but themselves for the mess. The West, and even Arab nations supporting the rebels, are dismayed at the large number of Islamic terrorist groups fighting for the rebels, and these fanatics talking about keeping on fighting after the Assads are gone in order to establish a religious dictatorship and a base for more Islamic terrorism everywhere. The rebels need these religious fanatics, who are the most effective fighters the rebels have, and are unsure what to do with them after the Assads are gone.

The civil war is 21 months old and over 60,000 have died so far. The recent increase in deaths largely comes from the government using more artillery against pro-rebel civilians. Air attacks are declining, reflecting the inability of the military to get fuel, spare parts, and bombs for its aircraft. The number of deaths per month has been increasing over the last year and is now close to a thousand a week (or more on bad weeks). The Libyan civil war in 2011 lasted eight months and resulted in an average of 3,700 dead per month. The Syrian average so far is 2,800 per month, but the monthly toll has more than tripled in the last year. Libya was different in that the security forces there were not as numerous or well organized as in Syria. Moreover, the Syrian dictatorship had a more effective secret police to keep tabs on and terrorize the population. Most importantly, the Libyan dictator had made many enemies in the Arab world and there was less uproar against NATO providing air support to the rebels.

So far there are 600,000 Syrians in refugee camps outside the country (mostly in Turkey but also Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq). The UN is trying to feed another million refugees within Syria but is having a problem because of government opposition, bandits, and general chaos. Some Syrians in the camps have attacked relief workers to protest the primitive conditions (especially living in tents during the cold weather). This month a rare snow storm hit most of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and northern Jordan.

The government is depending more on pro-Assad civilian militias, armed by the government to defend their villages or neighborhoods from rebels. These militias are usually non-Sunni and already targeted by the rebels as Assad supporters and deserving of some violent retribution. The militias will kill rebel civilians.

In Damascus and Aleppo the rebels are concentrating on the main airports. The Aleppo airport is mostly shut down and few airlines are operating out of the Damascus one. Shutting down the main airports is a major blow to the morale of Assad supporters, many of whom have already sent their families out of the country, usually via those major airports.

January 9, 2013: Rebels released 48 Iranians they captured last August, in return for the Syrian government releasing 2,130 Syrians (mostly innocent civilians) held in jails. The captive Iranians were travelling by bus in Damascus when taken. The rebels accused the Iranians of being military personnel in civilian clothes on a reconnaissance mission and demanded that the government stop its attacks in Damascus if they wanted the Iranians released. Iran said the 48 were pilgrims on their way to the airport and a flight home. Three of the pilgrims were killed a few days later when a Syrian air strike destroyed the house they were held in. Since then the rebels and Iran have haggled over what it would take to get the Iranians released.

January 8, 2013: Fighting again flared up in Yarmouk, a town of over 100,000 south of Damascus that is largely Palestinian and often referred to as a “Palestinian refugee camp.” While Palestinians officially support the Assad government, many individual Palestinians do not and that has led to fighting between pro-rebel and pro-government factions for the last few months.

January 7, 2013: President Assad made his first public appearance in months and gave a televised speech in which he called for peace and refused to step down. The rebels called this unacceptable and delusional.

January 3, 2013: A car bomb went off in a pro-Assad Alawite neighborhood of Damascus, killing 11.

January 1, 2013: At least 84,000 Syrians fled the country last month.


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