December 27, 2013
Much 'western media’ coverage of late is dominated by the idea that Assad is 'winning’, the rebellion is on the back-foot, etc. However, to quote this narrative is to quote the regime’s malicious, biased, one-sided narrative, which it seems to be very successfully peddling to anyone who will listen, parrot, and believe.
|One of Assad’s thugs celebrates destroying the people of his
own nation, and their property.
However, to claim that Assad is 'winning’ is completely contrary to the facts – on the contrary, Assad is by no means 'winning’. The evidence for his alleged recent 'winning’ streak is largely the result of Assad’s pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Al-Qusayr. However, to take this one town near the Lebanese border, Assad’s forces had to be reinforced by as many as 2000 Hezbollah fighters, and a massive amount of air power. It took some three weeks and hundreds of dead troops and Hezbollah terrorists before the city fell into regime hands – when you have to get a foreign army to fight your battles, and commit thousands of troops to take one small town, you are not 'winning’.
Similiarly, the latest Rif Dimashq offensive launched by the regime to clear rebel fighters from the Damascus suburbs, has been inconclusive. Regime losses stand at some 750 men (and probably many more, given the army’s history of refusing to publish casualty figures), and have failed to decisively dislodge the rebel presence from Damascus since March – rebels have even re-captured the strategic town of Qasya in a counterattack, and the regime is only managing to make a 'grinding' advance in the suburbs. The army has failed to cut the rebel arms supply into Damascus, or expel them from there.
|The situation in Aleppo, by July 2013. The green areas are
FSA-controlled areas, red regime controlled, green PYD (Kurd controlled), and brown symbolises an unclear situation.
In Daraa, the rebels seemed to be much less successful after their offensive bogged down, and their lack of experience greatly hindered their ability to hold their ground. However, after initial fears about being potentially 'routed’ in the south, they bounced back, taking control of a crucial government checkpoint in Daraa city itself, where the protests began in 2011. The campaign to take full control of the city is ongoing.
In Aleppo, much was made of the regime’s allegedly incoming offensive to re-capture the city, dubbed 'Operation Northern Storm’. In one instance, the regime bragged that Hezbollah had trained some 80,000 fighters in the Syrian 'National Defense Forces’ (an organised sectarian shabiha) to re-capture the city.
However, after some abortive army assaults (at least one of which may have just been a probing attack), the government incursions into rebel-held areas were soon repelled, and the rebel troops allegedly strengthened by the arrival of some 50 Konkors anti-tank missiles from Saudi Arabia. The rebels have even launched their own counteroffensive, called The Battle of Qadisiyah – a reference to a historic battle in which an Arab army defeated a Persian army (a clear reference to the huge levels of support which Iran gives Assad.
The rebel advance in Aleppo has brought them very close to the crucial , and the pro-regime residents of the city, and online supporters have become both angry and nervous, complaining bitterly about the rebel offensive, the cost of things in the city due to the rebel siege, and the fact that 'Mr. President’ is allegedly neglecting the 'security’ of Aleppo. Rage in impotent fury all you like…
In Idlib, no key gains have been made by the FSA since mid-2012, in terms of strategic advances. However, rebels are currently successfully besieging Idlib city, and hold much of the province.
|Homs after Assad’s 'reforms’.
Homs seems to be the only city in which he enjoys some gains in past months – around 80% of the city is under his regime’s control. But even now, regime offensives against Homs are, although suffocating, capturing no new ground whatsoever. Against all odds, the free residents of Homs continue to hold out – albeit at a terrible price. Action is urgent, if Homs is to be saved, let alone the rest of Syria.
Does all this smack of a man who’s regime is winning, on any front whatsoever? Assad will probably continue to hold out if his air force continues to dominate the skies (despite having around 50% of his air force put out of action), and if the FSA continue not to get anti-aircraft weapons. However, it is rumored that Saudi Arabia is sending these to certain rebel groups – thus, Assad’s air power is by no means secure. Exasperatingly, in Homs, regime jets have been flying low, and if rebels had the right sort of weapons, they could easily bring them down.
The fight is unbalanced for sure – Assad has heavy weaponry, committed allies, etc – the FSA have dithering 'allies’, few friends, and are effectively fighting the world, most of which likes Assad for being the devil they know. The US likes him for guaranteeing Israel’s border security (notice how he would never dare shoot at Israel), Putin likes him for buying his weapons and giving him a base – you name it. Everyone has a common ground and interest in Assad staying, apart from Syrians themselves.
He may be holding out for now, but he is by no means 'winning’. How long this will go on for is uncertain, but it could be for some time yet, if foreign powers continue to dither, instead of providing sufficient help to the Free Syrian Army. Even Saudi Arabia and Qatar seem to be only providing arms to select numbers of Islamist groups, marginalising the rest who need them too (clearly as an attempt to further their own interests). There is no sign of the promised arms from the United States. If there ever was a time for action, it is now.
Ben Allinson-Davies is an activist, blogger, and worker at Radio Free Syria.