Three years of war have killed nearly 150,000 Syrians (about 80 percent men, the rest women and children), wounded over 600,000, drove over three million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere plus more than twice as many Syrian refugees within Syria. About half the Syrian population has been driven from their homes by the fighting at one time or another since 2011. The actual war-related deaths are rapidly increasing. This includes losses from disease, exposure, starvation and war related crime (murder, not just getting caught in a firefight). Include all that and the deaths grow by as much as 20,000.
The war has trashed the economy. Since 2011 the Syrian GDP has gone from $60 billion to $34 billion and is still shrinking. The $8 billion a year tourism industry is gone for the moment, as is $3 billion a year in oil revenue. The rebels have captured the oil fields but ISIL has not been able to gain control over all the oil fields and facilities. Al Nusra and local tribes have opposed ISIL here, which means that a lot of pol is not being pumped or shipped.
In fought over areas up to half (on average) the homes and businesses have been damaged and 10-20 percent destroyed. Much of the economy is no longer working, either because of facilities being destroyed or the workers have fled. It is believed that it will take over a decade to rebuild the economy, and perhaps as long as three decades. Imports and exports are crippled because of the fighting. Unemployment is about 50 percent and what remains of a functioning economy is largely in government controlled areas.
The government and its suppliers Russia and Iran see eventual government victory although it may take years. The Assads have announced that the main fighting will end this year, followed by “counter-terrorist” operations for as long as it takes. The government has made it clear that it can play rough. In addition to the use of chemical weapons, the government is also accused to running brutal prison camps and regularly executing or torturing prisoners who do not provide information on rebel activities. This has produced calls for war crimes investigations against the Assads. This has not deterred the Assads, who are still in “fighting for survival” mode.
Most of the civilian misery in Syria is among pro-rebel groups and that is no accident. The government deliberately blocks supplies to pro-rebel areas while at the same time getting food and other supplies to loyal civilians. The government also publicized the return of some civilians to areas the army had driven the rebels out of along the Lebanese border. The number of returnees was small, but Basher Assad was making a point; come with me if you want to live (or at least eat regularly).
In rebel controlled areas deaths from starvation, disease and exposure are on the rise. There have been several thousand such deaths in the last year, about ten percent of them from starvation. The UN expects these non-combat deaths to increase because the government blocks aid for many of the four million people pro-rebel areas and donor nations have not provided enough money to feed everyone, especially inside Syria. Part of the reluctance to give is the uncertainty over whether aid sent into Syria actually reaches those who need it. A lot of aid is being stolen. The UN had to cut food deliveries to the extent that many Syrians are getting by on a third less than they need. The starvation is taking place in areas completely cut off from food aid.
Three years of war in Syria have left the health care system in a shambles. Over 100,000 children have been unable to receive vaccinations and polio and measles are showing up again. Polio is a particular problem because Pakistani Islamic terrorist rebels have apparently brought polio back to Syria. In 2013 there were over fifty cases of polio in Syria, after having been absent since the late 1990s. In 2013 the vaccination rate for Syrian children fell from 95 percent to under 80 percent and is expected to plunge even more in 2014. In 2014 thousands of polio causes are expected and there have already been several outbreaks of measles, which is less deadly than polio but also largely absent from Syria for decades. In 2013 there were over 10,000 known cases. Measles, mumps and rubella hits adults as well as children because few adults received booster vaccinations after childhood. Polio can also hit adults who did not receive a booster dose of vaccine. Adults are also liable to get typhus and other rapidly spreading diseases that have not been a problem in Syria for a long time. Public health experts expect outbreaks of all these diseases in Syria in 2014 and even more in subsequent years if the fighting does not end.
The biggest problem the rebels have is disunity. There is still a civil war between Iraqi led ISIL Islamic terrorists and all the other rebels (secular and Islamic). While the mainstream rebels have defeated ISIL in northern Syria, they have lost ground in eastern Syria because ISIL is strong in western Iraq (Anbar province). This area (east Syria/west Iraq) has always been a stronghold for Islamic conservative Sunni tribes, many of living on both sides of the border. ISIL is at war in both Syria and Iraq and in 2013 the death toll was 8,900 for all of Iraq and only ten percent of those were terrorists while the majority were Shia civilians. ISIL is believed to have lost heavily in the Anbar fighting and lost even more men in Syria. Over 3,000 Iraqis have died so far this year from terrorist related violence. The 2013 losses in Syria were more than twice as high, but most of that was in western Syria. The Sunni tribes had driven most government forces out of eastern Syria by early 2013. ISIL forces on both sides of the Iraq border are cooperating to drive the remaining government forces out of the area. But on the Iraqi side there are over 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and police in Anbar trying to destroy ISIL there. A lot of this fighting is in and around the city of Fallujah, which ISIL controls parts of. In eastern Syria ISIL controls Raqqa, the largest city in the east and the only provincial capital to be captured by the rebels.
This is not the first time Sunni Arabs have worked with their Iraqi counterparts.
During the Islamic terrorist campaign in Iraq from 2004-7 over ten percent of the foreign terrorists in Iraq were Syrians (while about half were Saudis). These foreign volunteers made up at least ten percent of the Islamic terrorists in Iraq during this period. Many fled to Syria after the Iraqi Sunnis turned against them in 2007. Some have since returned but the Iraqi and Syrian Sunni terrorists have learned to work together. Al Qaeda sees the civil war between ISIL and the rest of the rebels as a disaster for the Islamic radical cause but has been unable to get ISIL to cooperate. Al Qaeda has tried threats and offers to negotiate, but nothing has worked.
The Assads know they will have a hard time regaining control of the Sunni east. Not just because of the Arab tribes there, but also because of the Kurds in the northeast, who have allied with the Iraqi Kurds across the border and declared themselves autonomous. One thing the Sunni Arabs and Assads agree on is that the Kurds must not be allowed to maintain this autonomy, but so far neither the Assads nor the ISIL have been able to conquer the Syrian Kurds.
Assad backers now believe that foreign intervention is unlikely and that the best thing the Assads have going for them are the Islamic terrorist groups who fight for (and increasingly against) the rebels. As bad as the Assads are, many of the Islamic terrorist groups make the Assads look more acceptable as the continued rulers of Syria. While the war could continue into the next decade, the Assads are willing to inflict that much suffering on Syria to remain in power. Iran has contributed billions of dollars and sent in several thousand advisors and specialists to organize a force of fanatic foreign mercenaries (largely from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and from Iraqi Shia militias) who match the ferocity of the Sunni Islamic terror groups that are the fiercest fighters on the rebel side. Iran also helped organize militias among pro-Assad civilians and these defensive forces tie down nearby rebels.
The inability of the rebels to unite, coordinate their operations and back off on the atrocities has made much foreign aid impossible. Western nations saw what happened in Libya in 2011 when NATO provided air support and after the quick rebel victory the rebels could not unite and form a government. The Libyan rebels are still fighting each other there and tolerating Islamic terrorist groups. Syria looks to be more of the same and the West does not want to support it. To Iran, this is all an opportunity that cannot be passed up.
Adding to the rebel woes European intelligence officials believe about 2,000 European Moslems have gone to Syria so far and about ten percent have been killed. More than ten percent have returned and these jihad veterans often seek out new recruits. These jihadis are very effective at attracting new volunteers and some are believed planning attacks in Europe.
Although Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian war, the Syrian government continues to accuse Israel of sending agents to aid the rebels while some rebel factions accuse Israel of helping the Assad government.
In neighboring Lebanon the Syrian civil war has had considerable and growing impact. Religious violence related to the Syrian war continues in the north, where the security forces tend to step back and let the pro and anti-Assad forces go after each other. But when security forces or unaffiliated civilians are threatened, the soldiers and police intervene. In the south Hezbollah is suffering a cash-flow crises as international efforts to curb Hezbollah fund raising becomes more effective and Iran cuts back on cash aid because of the continuing sanctions on Iranian oil sales.
The U.S. continues to block efforts to supply the rebels with portable anti-aircraft missiles. This included halting Saudi Arabian efforts to persuade Pakistan to supply Pakistani made anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles for delivery to the Syrian rebels. The only problem with this is that Pakistan would be blamed for any civilian aircraft brought down by the missiles. Apparently the rebels have received anti-tank missiles, and the United States is much less hostile to this sort of weapon in rebel hands.
The government forces still have an advantage with their armored vehicles, artillery and warplanes. Russia has been a big help in keeping a lot of this stuff operational.
April 9, 2014: The government recaptured Rankous, on the Lebanese border and completed gaining control of a supply road from Lebanon into the Syrian interior. The rebels had been using this route for their own supplies.
In central Syria (Homs) two car bombs went off in a Shia neighborhood killing 21 people and wounding over a hundred. Most of the victims were civilians.
April 8, 2014: Some 30,000 tons of food arrives from Iran, which has become the pillar of the economy providing cash, weapons and a willingness to fly or ship in essentials. .
April 7, 2014: Israel announced that it believes that Syria again used chemical weapons on March 27th, during two operations on the outskirts of Damascus. For months now rebels have been complaining about the government continuing to use chemical weapons against civilians. The government is apparently using chemical weapons in small quantities, mainly as a psychological weapon to persuade civilians to accept government control. The two attacks outside Damascus caused only 15 deaths but the rebels apparently were able to obtain some physical evidence. The government denies any responsibility and accuses the rebels of making it all up. The government now says it has regained control of the neighborhoods they are accused of using chemical weapons on in March.
April 6, 2014: In central Syria (Homs) 29 rebels died as a car they were loading with explosives (for a terror attack) accidentally detonated.
In Jordan a riot by Syrians in a refugee camps turned violent and at least one refugee was killed. The unrest was all about the higher level of policing found in Jordan and in this case the police arresting a man for trying to smuggle a family out of the camp. Jordan does not want a lot of refugees living outside the camps, where they become a source of trouble for Jordanians and often get involved in criminal activities. The Syrian refugees resist the sort of control and so far the Jordanian police are winning. Jordan has some of the most professional and efficient police and military personnel in the region.
April 5, 2014: Over the last two days over 20 mortar shells landed in various parts of Damascus. Russia reported one shell exploding near their embassy. At least 22 people were wounded by all the mortar fire.
April 4, 2014: Syria has shipped out half of its chemical weapons but is still behind schedule to get them all out and destroyed by June 30th.
April 2, 2014: In Lebanon the number of registered Syrian refugees has reached one million. It has also done a lot of damage to the neighbors, costing Lebanon over $7 billion in refugee costs so far.
March 30, 2014: Turkey fired artillery at army positions in Syria from which it was believed a rocket was recently fired into Turkey. That rocket damaged a mosque and wounded an elderly Syrian refugee. There had also been some mortar shells fired from Syria at Turkish towns where Syrian refugees were living (and, according to the Assads, providing support for the rebels.
March 29, 2014: Two Spanish journalists, held for six months by ISIL, were freed. The two were held in Raqqa, an ISIL controlled town in eastern Syria, along with about 40 other Westerners kidnapped by ISIL. It’s not known if any deal (ransom or ISIL captives freed) was made to get the two Spaniards freed.
Rebels have been fighting in Latakia province, which is on the coast and borders Turkey. This is pro-Assad territory and this rebel incursion is basically a raid. It is very embarrassing for the Assads and most of the several hundred rebels will probably be trapped and killed, but in the last week they have caused several hundred casualties among Assad supporters (armed and unarmed).
March 28, 2014: On the Syrian border Israeli troops caught two armed men trying to get through the border fence. The two men were shot and wounded.
March 26, 2014: Another side effect of the Syrian war is the reappearance and spread of polio. At the moment the Iraqi government is preparing to distribute polio vaccine to 20 million Iraqis. This is in response to the recent (March) confirmation that the first case of polio had been found in Iraq since 2000. This was the result of Pakistani based Islamic terrorists infected by polio (but not crippled by it, which is common with many people exposed to polio or other viruses like influenza) coming from Syria since 2012. Syria had polio outbreaks earlier in 2013 and has been unable to carry out a polio vaccination program because of the violence and the refusal of some rebel groups to cooperate. Islamic terrorists from Pakistan are believed responsible for the outbreak of polio in Syria because an analysis of the DNA of the polio in Syria was similar to polio DNA found in Pakistan. The polio that infected a six month old Iraqi child in March was analyzed and found to be the same one being found in Syria.