Syria: Let's Annoy The Turks


June 29, 2012: Violence is increasing, with deaths running at over 700 a week. The security forces are suffering higher casualties but these are exceeded by increasing desertions. Nearly 16,000 people have died since the violence began 15 months ago but more than twice as many soldiers have deserted. Russia still supports the Assad dictatorship and is blocking harsher measures by the UN. At the same time, the UN has declared Syria too dangerous for UN observers. The country is still, technically, operating under a UN ceasefire negotiated in April but never really observed.

At least twenty percent of the Syrian Army has deserted so far. Most Syrians oppose the Assad government. Only about ten percent of the population benefit from the Assad dictatorship. This fraction of the population supplies the manpower for the secret police (about 50,000 full-timers) and the leadership of the armed forces (300,000 troops and 100,000 paramilitary, the majority of them Sunni, led by largely Alawite officers). The loyalty of many troops is being bought, by making sure the troops are paid on time and that the married ones have access to needed consumer goods.

The Alawites are five percent of the population. Sunni Arabs are about 75 percent. Other minorities (Shia, Druze, Christian) will, up to a point, side with the Alawites (a common pattern in the Middle East, where non-Sunni minorities have long been persecuted). Deserters are treated harshly (often executed immediately) if caught. Many army units are confined to their bases, with the more trusted troops guarding the rest. There are only about 100,000 reliable soldiers and secret police. But over 20,000 armed militia have been raised from loyal (especially Alawite) populations. These gunmen are less disciplined and more prone to harsh treatment of rebel civilians. Economic problems are being felt all over the country. There are shortages of food and any goods that must be imports. Sanctions have made it difficult to import anything, even items (like food and medicine) not banned by sanctions. These items are made available based on how loyal (to the government) you appear to be. Iran is supplying billions of dollars to help pay for a lot of this loyalty. Despite these efforts, morale in the military is low. The troops don't like being ordered to fire on civilians. Rebels report that troops are often very inaccurate when firing on civilians and that artillery and tank units ordered to do this often suffer lots of desertions afterwards.

The growing weakness of the pro-government forces has encouraged the rebels, who are finding it easier to move about and stage attacks. Rebels are making attacks closer and closer to the capital and terrorist bombs have been going off inside the capital. The rebels increasingly control the countryside, with the government forces staying near the major cities. The troops only move into the country side in heavily armed convoys. Anything smaller gets ambushed.

Rebels report that nearly 200 tanks have moved to positions on the Turkish border, north of the city of Aleppo. The tanks are apparently there to attack rebel held towns, not fight invading Turks. In the last two days the Turks have moved more troops and anti-aircraft missile units to the Syrian border.

Turkey is still discussing what to do about Syria shooting down one of its jets. Turkey does not want to invade Syria but the loss of the F-4 jet has caused a lot of anger inside Turkey, especially within the military. However, opinion surveys show that most Turks do not want to go to war over the issue.

June 28, 2012: In the capital two bombs exploded in a parking lot near the Palace of Justice. Both were attached to vehicles belonging to judges. A third such bomb was found and disabled.

June 27, 2012: Rebels accuse the Syrian government of murdering a Hamas leader today. Most Hamas officials have left Syria, after maintaining headquarters there for over a decade. Hamas is backing the rebels, which has angered the Assads. Hamas represents a largely Sunni Arab constituency and so had little choice.

In the last few days over 40 Syrian military officers have defected to Turkey.

June 26, 2012: Rebels attacked a pro-government TV station 20 kilometers south of the capital. The station was burned down and at least three employees killed.

June 25, 2012: Turkey accused Syria of firing on a Turkish patrol aircraft, searching for the lost Turkish F-4 (shot down by the Syrians).

June 22, 2012: Syrian forces shot down a low flying Turkish F-4 reconnaissance aircraft while (according to Syria) it was flying 13 kilometers off the Syrian coast. Turkey says the F-4 was 23 kilometers off the coast (in international air space) when it was hit. The general location of wreckage was found a few kilometers from the Syrian coast, at a depth of 1,300 meters. Also found were the flight helmets and boots of the two crewmen but not the crewmen themselves. Specialized ships are being brought in to precisely locate the wreckage and bring it to the surface. A close examination of the wreckage will reveal what brought the aircraft down and where. If black boxes are recovered with data intact, the situation will be much clearer.

June 20, 2012: For the first time ever a Syrian pilot defected with his aircraft. A Syrian colonel, flying a MiG-21 fighter, landed in Jordan and was granted asylum.




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