Assad is winning war in Syria

SYRIA-CRISIS/ T

Assad is winning war in Syria

Mahir Zeynalov, SundaysZaman, May 11, 2013

Twenty-six months into the bloody uprising and there is no clear victor in the war in Syria that has left tens of thousands of people dead. To the delight of Assad and his cronies, the Syrian army has made significant progress through military gains in the past month.

Assad started to smile when his brutal army made some gains in Idlib. Following weeks of intense offensives in Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus suburbs, government forces outflanked the opposition forces and broke through the opposition line that ringed the Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military bases in Idlib province on April 14. This enabled the Syrian army to bolster its groups fighting in northern Syria. The successful assault in Idlib also opened up a strategic highway to Aleppo — a business hub deadlocked over battles between rival forces.

The army, which controls much of Homs city and province, intensified its air and ground campaign against the opposition fighters and recaptured the central districts there. Homs is the only connection between Damascus and government stronghold Alawite heartlands on the Mediterranean coast.

With the generous help of Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian regime also successfully besieged the border town of Qusayr, just 10 kilometers from the Lebanese border. Some opposition groups are still bottled up in the town, but the army is hell-bent on capturing the area as it has started to build up troops around the city since Wednesday.

The recapture of Qusayr will create a long line of safe zones along the Mediterranean coast, running from Israel to Turkey’s Gaziantep, and will include Lebanon, Damascus, Homs, Tartous, Latakia and Hatay. Controlling these territories, it will be easier for the Syrian army to supply food and weapons to any battlefield across the country, including Raqqa and Deir Ez-zor.

The most significant military gains came in the past two weeks when the army swept through the suburbs of Qaboun, Jobar and Barzeh, effectively clearing them of opposition forces. The arms supply for the opposition dried up in recent weeks as the regime forces also captured Otaiba and Kherbet Ghazalah, key towns that stand on highways where the opposition received weapons from Jordan. Despite opposition victories in Deraa and Dael in March that could be used to stage attacks on the capital, the key areas are now mostly controlled by government forces.

The next target is Idlib. Besieged by army forces, opposition fighters staged one of the biggest offensives in Idlib on Thursday but failed to thwart Assad’s troops, who fought back. Syrian state media reports that the army inflicted heavy losses on the opposition fighters there.

Once Idlib is recaptured — and there is no reason why the military won’t be able to retake it — the Aleppo assault will start, and that will also virtually erase most opposition victories over the past 15 months.

The turning point of the revolution was the opposition’s decision to stage attacks on Aleppo and Damascus, as that only consumed the energy of the fighters. With only slight gains in Aleppo, the opposition lost too many fighters and arms over taking control over the city. In Damascus campaign, the opposition failed to secure any of the suburbs and waged a war that did not help move forward the uprising aimed at toppling the Assad regime.

Opposition fighters were able to control Raqqa, Rastan, Hassakah, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli, but they meant so little to Assad that he abandoned these areas long before, except for Raqqa.

If this pace of army gains continues in coming months, the Syrian uprising will be dead for a long time to come. The Western nations will not tolerate Assad taking cities back in tandem and putting an end to the uprising. Their policy so far has been to allow the war to take place and to see a clear victor out of the fighting. Exhausted by months of fighting, opposition fighters are now losing their battles.

The West’s first step will be to arm the opposition fighters. It may help in tilting the war in favor of the opposition. If this fails to work, intervention will be inevitable. No matter what Assad does, he will not survive.

You can follow the author on Twitter @MahirZeynalov (English) and @MahirZeynalov_ (Turkish)

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