[Marxism] Syrian army weakening as rebels make gains

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 5 08:10:04 MST 2012


Syrian army weakening as rebels make gains
By Joby Warrick and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Published: December 4 | 
Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 9:17 AM

After nearly two years of fighting, Syria’s vaunted war machine is 
showing serious cracks as emboldened rebels snap up more bases and 
airfields and force army units to retrench behind defensive lines in 
major cities, Western officials and military analysts say.

Bolstered by a steady flow of arms from foreign backers, opposition 
forces have scored a series of tactical victories in the Damascus 
suburbs in recent days and are advancing steadily toward the city’s 
airport, adding to what some analysts view as a sense of momentum that 
has been building since late summer.

Powerful antitank and antiaircraft weapons have helped level what was 
once a lopsided contest, the officials say, so much so that army 
commanders have been unable or unwilling to challenge rebel assaults on 
large military bases on the capital’s outskirts.

“The regime isn’t intervening to defend its positions,” said Jeffrey 
White, a former Middle East military analyst with the Pentagon’s Defense 
Intelligence Agency. “And when it does try to counterattack, it often 

Extremist groups among the Syrian opposition are responsible for some of 
the gains. Rebel commanders and outside analysts say the groups have 
grown more powerful in recent months because of funding and weapons from 
wealthy Arab donors in the Persian Gulf region as well as Syrian 
businessmen outside the country.

One Islamist militia with suspected ties to al-Qaeda has seized two 
government military bases in the past two weeks.

Several independent military experts have pointed to a perceptible shift 
in the rebels’ fortunes beginning in mid-November, around the time 
reports began to surface of Syrian helicopters and planes being shot 
down by shoulder-fired missiles. Western and Middle Eastern intelligence 
officials say up to 40 of the portable antiaircraft missile systems have 
been smuggled into rebel-held parts of Syria since late summer.

But analysts say the opposition’s successes also reflect the degraded 
state of the Syrian army, which appears to be running low on supplies 
and morale. White, the former DIA analyst, said the rebels “are getting 
better, with better equipment and more of it, but it’s also true that 
the government’s troops are being worn down.”

Military experts cautioned that the fighting is likely to drag on, 
barring a surprise development such as the assassination or abdication 
of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Joseph Holliday, a former U.S. Army 
officer and senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of War who 
has examined the capabilities of Syrian rebels, said a decisive victory 
could be several months, if not years, away.

Holliday said rebel squads have shown increasing tactical skills and 
deployed momentum-changing weapons, including roadside bombs and 
antiaircraft missiles. The bombs have limited the movement of Syrian 
troops and the antiaircraft guns have forced Syrian pilots to fly at 
higher altitudes, he said. The net result is that the Syrian military 
has surrendered critical territory and appears to lack the resources to 
regain ground.

“What we’re seeing is a contraction from the regime,” Holliday said. 
“The rebels have been successful in forcing the regime to give up on 
outlying outposts.”

But the rebels continue to suffer from poor coordination among the 
factions that have taken up arms against the regime across the country, 
he said.

“What we haven’t seen is any organization above the provincial level, 
and that is concerning,” he said.

Obama administration officials have expressed concern about the absence 
of a united front among the opposition groups. The administration is 
expected to join Britain, France and other allies next week in 
recognizing a newly formed coalition as the legitimate representative of 
the Syrian people. But Washington remains unwilling to provide arms to 
the rebels.

Competition for weapons and money has led to a deepening of the rift 
between Islamist and secular groups within the opposition. Secular 
commanders complain bitterly of the lack of tangible support from their 
Western backers.

“The lack of support by the international community has led to a 
situation where support is coming from the gulf states and from Syrian 
businessmen in those states,” Col. Malik Kurdi, a spokesman for the 
rebel Free Syrian Army, said in an interview. “These are people who have 
the ideology of Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. They started 
supporting groups who have the same ideology in Syria, and some adopted 
this ideology to get financial support.”

At least half a dozen religious extremist groups have sprung up in Syria 
since the beginning of the year. The group that has captured the most 
attention and appears
to have had the greatest degree of success is Jabhat al-Nusra, which is 
thought to have links to al-Qaeda.

Since the group was formed in January, it has asserted responsibility 
for a series of suicide attacks against military and security targets. 
Its forces have overrun at least two government military bases in the 
past two weeks, collecting weapons left behind by Syrian troops, 
opposition activists said.

“Unfortunately, there are more extremist groups receiving arms,” said 
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East 
Policy. “That’s changing with the capture of new weapons but also the 
supply of weapons from outside.”

Despite the steadily increasing flow of arms into the country, some 
rebel fighters say most of their guns and ammunition come from army 
bases the rebels have overtaken. Supplies often run short.

In the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, where many wounded rebels go to 
recover, a 21-year-old man who gave only his first name, Ammar, arrived 
11 days ago after a sniper’s bullet sliced through his shin during 
fighting near Aleppo. He said he had just one rocket remaining in his 
grenade launcher when he tried to take out the sniper. When the sniper 
fired back, Ammar was hit in the leg.

“We lack many things,” said Ammar, who defected from the army seven 
months ago. Now he shares a room with two rebels who worked at an 
electronics store and a potato chip factory before the war.

“We had no machine guns,” he said. “No antiaircraft weapons. We didn’t 
have enough ammunition. Just Kalashnikovs” and rocket-propelled grenades.

Down the hall, Mustafa Akush lay in a bed, paralyzed from the waist down 
since a bullet struck his spine during fighting three months ago in 
Aleppo. He was a lieutenant in the army, and before he defected early 
this year, he smuggled ammunition out to resupply the rebels. He said he 
fled the army officially when he was ordered to report to investigators 
about the missing bullets.

“There’s a big gap between the weapons the army has and what we have,” 
Akush said as his brother rewound the bandages covering both his legs 
below the knees.

He offered only one explanation for the rebels’ success despite being 
outnumbered and outgunned.

“It’s because we are defending what we feel is righteous,” Akush said.

Dehghanpisheh reported from Beirut. Suza Haidamous in Beirut, Carol 
Morello on the Turkish-Syrian border and Ernesto Londoño in Washington 
contributed to this report.

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