Syria: The Bloody Long Shot


September 14, 2012: The fighting intensifies. About 6,000 soldiers and armed rebels have been killed in 20 months of violence, each side suffering about the same number of casualties. Most of the rebels are killed by artillery and air strikes, while most of the military casualties are from ambushes, mines, and planted bombs. Over 25,000 civilians have died so far and nearly 30,000 arrested. Casualties are sometimes over 500 a day (nationwide) with deaths running at the rate of over 3,000 a month. Most of the dead civilians are pro-rebel but a growing number are government supporters. While the number of soldiers declines (more due to desertions than casualties) the number of pro-government militiamen increases. These are gunmen organizing to defend their neighborhoods in cities that are being fought over. This is especially true in Homs, Damascus, Hamma, and Aleppo. Any area where Alawites (5 percent of the total population) live near Sunnis, these militias are forming. This is due to the increased violence the government is using against rebel civilians. Many Alawites are fleeing to the coastal area, between the ports of Latakia and Tartus, where Alawites are the majority in most areas. This region is not only safer for Alawites but because of the two ports, it provides a ready means of escape if the situation becomes truly desperate.

The Assad family has apparently decided to go all-out in fighting the rebels, paying no attention to civilian casualties among the Sunni population (75 percent of all Syrians). Continued Russian support keeps the UN from authorizing any kind of foreign military intervention while Iran and its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon provide clandestine military support to the beleaguered Assad forces. As long as this situation persists, the Assads have a chance (albeit a slim one) of battering their Sunni majority into submission. This assumes that the savagery of the government against their own population does not eventually create enough bad press to force foreign intervention (without UN approval).

The Assad forces are getting weaker. While more Alawites are being armed (or called up to active service as army reservists), the desertions continue in the security forces. Most of the troops are still Sunnis and most of these are being kept in service under threat of violence to themselves or their families. Many of the 30,000 civilians held in jails or prison camps are hostages to ensure good behavior by Sunni troops or neighborhoods. The number of armed and trained troops the government can depend on shrinks, which is why the rebels continue to gain control over more territory despite the pounding they are taking. The rebels know how to avoid the government firepower and continue to kill troops whenever they can. The UN condemns the rebels for killing soldiers who surrendered, ignoring the fact that maintaining prisoners of war is much more difficult for the rebels than for the government forces. The rebels are fighting under different conditions than the Assad forces and have a lot more enthusiasm for their cause. The Alawites are operating under a growing sense of doom. The economy is a mess and shortages are growing. Even in the capital, explosions and gunfire can be heard in most parts of the city. Wealthy Alawite families have already sent many women and children abroad and moved what assets they can to foreign banks. While nearly all the refugees are Sunnis and other minorities, a growing number are Alawite. Nearly 300,000 have fled the country and over ten percent of the population has fled their homes to avoid the fighting, with most of them finding refuge elsewhere in Syria.

The Syrian military is offering weapons to Christian and Armenian communities in cities (especially Aleppo) being fought over. If the minorities will form self-defense militias and keep rebels out, the army will not fire artillery at those neighborhoods.

The rebels are directing many of their guerilla attacks against artillery units and seeking to capture more heavy (12.7mm or larger) machine-guns, as these force aircraft to operate at higher altitudes and make their bombing operations much less accurate and effective. Sunni Arab nations are providing weapons to the rebels but not enough for all the Sunni men and teenagers who want to fight. France has admitted that it is providing non-lethal aid (radios, GPS, computers, medical supplies, and such). Everything has to be smuggled in, even though the rebels control many border crossings. The problem is that the army is strong enough to patrol wherever it wants, even though the troops are not numerous enough to hold a lot of territory. So the rebel supplies have to be moved carefully and slowly. The U.S. has been sending more intelligence and military training specialists to the Syrian border area in Turkey, to collect information and help the rebels get organized. The U.S. is also believed to be providing the rebels with intelligence on where the Syrian armed forces are deployed and what the Assad forces are planning.

Over the last two weeks the Israeli military has been improving security along its Syrian border. This involves adding better fencing and sensors as well as more robust shelters for border troops. The border has been quiet since 1973, but there is fear that some of the current fighting in Syria might spill over into Israel and the Israelis are preparing to deal with that. On the Syrian side the area along the Israeli border has not seen much violence so far and contains a population that has generally been loyal to the Assads.

Turkey is building more refugee camps for Syrians, in anticipation of the number of refugees tripling from 100,000 to 300,000 in the next few weeks. Turkey is continuing to resist NATO pressure to provide more aggressive aid to the Syrian rebels. Turkish leaders know that most Arabs still see Turks as a threat (after centuries of often harsh Turkish that only ended in 1918), so Turks "invading" Syria might have very serious blowback in the Arab world.

Western intelligence agencies believe Syria has dispersed its chemical weapons arsenal (thousands of tons of bombs and shells filled with various nasty chemicals) to at least twenty temporary storage sites. This was to prevent any from being captured by rebels. Western nations are concerned that Islamic terror groups fighting for the rebels could get some of these chemical weapons and use them for attacks in the West. Islamic terror groups are believed responsible for the terrorist-type bombing operations against the Syrian army and government targets. There are also over a thousand Islamic radical gunmen operating with the rebels. The fanaticism of the Islamic radicals is appreciated but most of the rebels agree that they don't want the Islamic radical groups having too much power after the Assad's are ousted.

September 13, 2012: Outside Damascus there was a clash between Sunni rebels and a Shia militia near a Shia religious shrine. Sunni Islamic radicals try to destroy Shia shrines whenever possible because Sunni consider Shias, and many of their religious practices, heretical.




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