Reuters reports that the Syrian regime says it has fully re-taken Damascus and is now moving on rebel positions in Aleppo. The Guardian’s Luke Harding has this from the Syrian second city.
One military commander in Aleppo’s rebel-held Boustan Alkasr province said shelling had continued all weekend. The commander – who declined to be named – was relatively pessimistic about the Free Syrian Army’s chances of fending off repeated attacks. “The FSA has several hundred soldiers stationed inside Aleppo, and in total a bigger force in the area of around 2000. The regime has 100 tanks, we estimate, and about another 400 troop carriers and armoured vehicles. They also have 43 buses of Shabiha that have been brought inside Aleppo, with around 1500 soldiers. And the regime has helicopters.”
The commander said that unless the opposition could get access to heavy weapons it would take “two to three years” to defeat Assad’s military machine.
I said this was likely more than a week ago, even as many Western pundits were talking up the high profile bomb attack in Damascus and subsequent urban fighting there as the imminent end of the Assad regime. The other side of the coin (pun intended) is that such massive armored troop movements don’t defeat an insurgency by themselves. Colin Freeman wrote in the Telegraph yesterday:
Just as Western forces found to their cost in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is one thing for heavy armour to storm its way into a city and hammer its restive districts. It is quite another then to hold those districts, keeping them pacified amidst an increasingly hostile population – and this is why the rebels believe they may prevail in the long run.
For a start, the sheer size of a city like Aleppo makes it hard to put under a complete military stranglehold. Syria’s northern commercial hub is home to at least two million people, roughly the same as Greater Manchester. At best, the military can establish checkpoints and roadblocks at a few strategic points, and even then, commanders will risk draining manpower from the capital, Damascus, and other major cities.
Dependent on vulnerable supply lines of food for their troops and heavy fuel for their tanks, they then become easy static targets for a campaign of urban guerrilla warfare by the rebels, who can melt back into Aleppo’s alleyways and surrounding countryside whenever it suits them.
Just as in Libya, there are signs that the rebel forces massed against Assad will also gradually evolve from amateurish, rag-tag outfits into semi-disciplined fighting brigades.
I think that rebel commander quoted by Harding is just as optimistically wrong as those predicting Assad’s downfall any day now and just as optimistically wrong as the Assad loyalists predicting their crushing of the rebels is just around the corner. Absent outsidee armed intervention – which I now think is unlikely – this civil war is settleing in for a very long haul indeed.