Syria: Slip Sliding Away

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October 15, 2012: The rebels continue to make gains. In the last week the highway from Damascus (the capital) to Aleppo was cut and rebel fighters were showing up in more towns and city neighborhoods. Nearly 400,000 Syrians have fled the country (most to avoid the violence, a growing number of Assad supporters are going into exile). A growing number of Syrian soldiers are fleeing across the border just to avoid getting killed or captured. Over ten percent of the 22 million population have been exposed to some of the violence and nearly all Syrians are suffering from shortages.

The rebels are seizing control of sections of highway, in part to prevent military camps or units from being supplied and to make it easier for pro-rebel civilians (that includes over 85 percent of the population) to get food and other items. Troops that are left without regular supplies of food, ammo, and medical gear suffer from poor morale. This increases desertions and defections. Thus, as the rebels grow more numerous (even if many new recruits have few weapons and little ammunition) the government security forces continue to shrink. The rebels are making a point of releasing nearly all the lower ranking soldiers and police they capture, and only keeping most of the officers and senior NCOs. This has encouraged more surrenders. Deaths from combat and continued shelling of residential areas (by the government) are killing about a thousand people a week and wounding 3-4 times more.

The security forces are being forced to withdraw from more areas they long occupied because they do not have enough troops to patrol and control. Losses (mostly from desertions and capture) mean that more emphasis is placed on controlling cities and the major bases that surround them. Holding the cities means eventually having to deal with serious food shortages. It’s the lack of supplies more than anything else that is going to defeat the government. Turkey has banned truck traffic into Syria and the rebels control more and more of the roads entering the country. There are not enough police and troops to hold the border areas, roads, and cities.

Turkish, American, and Western leaders in general are becoming more vocal in condemning the UN, especially Russia and China (whose vetoes are the main cause of UN inaction), for not doing anything to halt the fighting in Syria or help ease the suffering of the many civilians there. Russia is now being called “morally bankrupt” but replies that it is simply fighting Islamic terrorism by supporting the Assad dictatorship. Russian media is full of stories about Islamic terror groups fighting alongside the Syrian rebels and how these terrorists are being supported by the United States and other Western nations. These Russian attitudes will harm Russian diplomacy in the Arab world for a long time. China, on the other hand, has simply kept quiet about its support for Russia in opposing UN action.

Alawites, worried about what will happen to them if the rebels win, are switching sides. 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. The defectors are taking the long view, seeing connections with the rebels the only way to avoid getting chased out of Syria.

The increased security on the Turkish border is causing more gun battles and alerts because of the smuggler traffic. This illicit trade goes both ways. Cigarettes are much cheaper in Syria, so smugglers take them into Turkey on a regular basis. Now weapons and military equipment is being smuggled in (in addition to the items the Turks are allowing in) along with consumer goods and even food (because commercial traffic has largely been disrupted). Normally, the smugglers don’t fire on the border guards but there have been more incidents of that lately. One reason may be the sharp increase in smuggling out antiquities. Syria has long been a source of valuable ancient artifacts and the loss of government control over much of the country has led to artifacts being taken without government permission and smuggled out to be sold on the international black market. This sort of thing could be worth millions of dollars a month to gangs that are grabbing the artifacts and smuggling them out. Some government officials are probably involved, but most of it appears to be the usual criminal organizations taking advantage of a rare opportunity.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states are supplying most of the weapons for the Syrian rebels. The U.S. is having a hard time getting information on which rebel factions are getting what. This leads some American intelligence experts to suspect that the Gulf Arabs are supplying a lot of weapons to radical factions (like al Qaeda) within the rebel military coalition.

Syria is being accused of using cluster bombs, which have been banned in most nations because of many complaints that too many of the small bomblets do not explode when they are supposed to and lay on the ground where children (or even adults) later disturb the explosive devices and cause a detonation. Syria is supposedly using Russian cluster bombs, which have a reputation for a high number (over ten percent) of the hundreds of bomblets in a single cluster bomb not going off when they should. If the Syrians are using cluster bombs they have to warn their own troops to be careful when entering areas where these bombs were dropped.

October 14, 2012:  Turkey banned all Syrian aircraft from Turkish air space. This mutual ban comes after Turkey forced a Syrian airliner, coming from Russia, down for an inspection. Weapons and other military cargo were found.

In the capital a suicide car bomb went off in a wealthy neighborhood, where many government officials live. There were no injuries (except for the dead driver) but this sort of thing sends a message. Later in the day another car bomb went off, in the same neighborhood, wounding a pro-government journalist. Elsewhere in the city, yet another bomb wounded a pro-government lawyer. All these bombs exploding in the capital, especially in areas where the government is strongest (or lives with their families), is bad for morale among the leading families.

October 13, 2012: Syria banned all Turkish aircraft from Syrian air space. Rebels claim to have shot down a government warplane over Aleppo.

October 11, 2012: Rebels cut the highway from Damascus to Aleppo. Subsequent efforts by the army to regain control of the highway failed.

October 10, 2012: Turkey forced a Syrian airliner, coming from Russia, down for an inspection. Weapons and other military cargo were found, although Syria and Russia denied that this was the case.

October 9, 2012: For six days now shells from Syria have landed in Turkey. In response, the Turks have fired back

October 8, 2012: Suicide bombers attacked an air force intelligence compound outside Damascus. There were casualties.

October 7, 2012: In the capital a suicide car bomb went off near a police headquarters.

 

 

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