Analysis: Syrian rebels gaining ground
By JONATHAN SPYERRegime employing dual strategy of maintaining a fortress-like hold on the capital while carving out Alawite enclave in the northwest of the country.
As the UN Supervision Mission in Syria ceases its activities, there are indications that the Syrian rebels are beginning to gain the upper hand against President Bashar Assad’s regime. The rebels have scored notable achievements against government forces in recent days. There are corresponding signs of growing demoralization among regime troops, and among those sections of the population still supporting Assad.(...)
The advantage in the civil war in Syria has ebbed and flowed. The rebels began to establish “liberated zones” in parts of the country around last October. In late February, the regime launched a determined, bloody counterattack to reconquer these areas, and largely achieved this in time for the “cease-fire” of April 10. With the cease-fire now in tatters, the indications are that the momentum of the insurgency has picked up again, and is now driving forward against the regime’s forces.
A reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, embedded with Free Syrian Army fighters in Homs governate, noted that the rebels have now expelled government troops from the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, north of Homs city.
The rebels are also battling for Qusayr, to the south of Homs. The FSA unit engaged in this area is the Farouq Brigade, one of the best organized of the free army formations.
Rebels also noted the increased use of attack helicopters by regime forces, to avoid the necessity of engaging rebels on the ground.
One officer said: “There is a new reality that we are feeling daily on the ground.
But the regime refuses to recognize this.”
The spread of the violence into areas that regime supporters had considered firmly under Assad’s control is increasing the mood of despondency.
An individual identified as a former captain of Assad’s army captured by the FSA expressed his surprise at the rebels’ strength. “We didn’t imagine they had these numbers and so much equipment,’ he told McClatchy.
The regime, meanwhile, appears to be following a dual strategy. While maintaining a fortress-like hold on the capital, and still seeking to reconquer urban centers held by the rebels, the regime is also carving out an Alawite enclave in the northwest of the country.
Non-Alawites are being expelled from the designated area. This area will form a safe zone and “baseline” for the regime, Assad hopes, in the event of a long, protracted war.
It is not clear if this strategy will succeed. But the very fact that it is being adopted shows that the regime is seeking to reduce and consolidate its commitments, in the face of the widening rebel assault upon it. The Syrian civil war is entering a new phase.