Potential Hot Spots: Shoot On Sight Time In Syria

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December 23, 2011: Desertion in the army has reached crises proportions, with several thousand fleeing each day. So far, about ten percent of the 300,000 army troops have deserted. New conscripts are not showing up and defying the government to come get them. Most of the lower ranking troops are Sunni Arabs, who are over 75 percent of the population and generally hostile to the government. The minorities (Alawites, Druze, Christians) serve as NCOs and officers but do not want to be on the wrong side of a civil war, and not every minority family prospered under the Assads. So not even the non-Sunnis are guaranteed to remain loyal and one Syrian general is reported to have deserted and fled to Turkey. The threat of sectarian war is very real, and there are already outbreaks of violence against the ruling Alawites and other minorities who support the government. Unlike 30 years ago, when the Assads faced a rebellion by Islamic radicals, and put it down with one savage assault on the city of Hama, this uprising is much larger. One big massacre won't do it, and would probably only inflame the rebels to kill all Alawites, especially the Assads.

The most disturbing development for the Assads is the appearance of rebels outside the capital. Damascus is full of people who have benefitted from supporting the Assad dictatorship. There are so many government supporters that it's very difficult to organize anti-Assad demonstrations in Damascus. Partly that's because there are more soldiers and secret police in the capital than anywhere else. Despite that, groups of rebels are attacking police and troops on the outskirts of the capital.

The government appears to have ordered the security forces and secret police to use unrestrained violence against any opposition. Thus over a hundred people a day are being killed, with several hundred more wounded. Total deaths are now over 6,000 so far. The government says that over 2,000 security personnel have died in the last ten months.

There are not as many arrests because there's no place to put any new prisoners. While the gunfire will disperse a crowd of demonstrators as soon as the troops move on, another demonstration appears. With most Syrians opposed to the government, and willing to risk their lives to drive the Assads out, things look grim for the current dictatorship. Most Western governments consider the Assads out of touch and on the way out. Many Arab governments are coming to the same conclusion. So it's not a case of if, but when, the Assads will depart. The Arab League is trying to broker a deal that will make that happen sooner rather than later. The Assads are not cooperating.

The central Syrian city of Homs, 160 kilometers north of the capital, is the scene of the most intense violence. The city is surrounded by troops, who themselves are under constant attack by FSA groups. The civilians in Homs keep putting on anti-government demonstrations, despite growing food shortages and trigger happy security forces.

While many of the deserters just disappear, others join the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). Leaving the army is often very dangerous, as sentries and NCOs have orders to shoot suspected deserters on sight.  In some cases, mass desertions have led to over a hundred casualties among the fleeing soldiers. The FSA claims to have organized at least two dozen battalions all over the country. While there are some large battles, with hundreds of armed men on each side fighting it out, most of the action are FSA attacks on army supplies and patrols. The convoys carrying these supplies are vulnerable to ambush, and as the FSA makes more of these attacks, more soldiers and police decide to desert or switch sides. Army and police commanders must devote more and more of their time to monitoring the loyalty of subordinates. The supply problems also consume a lot more attention, as hungry troops, who are short of ammo, are less reliable. The FSA forces also has some tanks and artillery, and as more of this stuff is acquired, there will be more big battles.

December 22, 2011: The first 60 (out of 150) Arab League observers arrived but the government is not observing the terms of the observer deal. In return for not imposing more sanctions, Syria was supposed to stop killing its own people and allow Arab League observers in to ensure that the violence was halted. The government has told the Arab League that the observers will not be able to visit areas where most of the violence is taking place.

December 20, 2011: In central Syria, five Iranian engineers (working on a new power plant) were kidnapped by a group of armed men. It's unclear if the kidnappers were rebels or gangsters.

December 18, 2011: The Assads have agreed to negotiate a peace deal with the Arab League. This would bring a halt to the government killing in Syria and negotiations for a new government. But most Syrians believe this is just a ploy to distract the Arab League while the Assads try to put down the rebellion with force.

December 16, 2011: Security forces were apparently ordered to open fire freely on demonstrations and leave dead bodies lying in public places to discourage more anti-government crowds.

December 15, 2011: Canada has told its citizens (as many as 5,000) in Syria to get out. It’s not just the growing violence, but the fact that Canadian diplomats feel they would be unable to persuade the Syrian government to cooperate in getting Canadian citizens out.

December 14, 2011: Western governments are openly declaring the Assad government doomed and that it is only a matter of time before the rebels prevail. Many Arab countries believe this as well, but don't say it openly, nor will Syria's main allies: Iran, Russia, and China.

 

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