News / Middle East

Analysts: Syrian Rebels Miss Battlefield Opportunities

A Free Syrian Army sniper looks through the scope of his rifle at an area controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo' September 11, 2013.Analysts say the FSA lacks effective leadership.
A Free Syrian Army sniper looks through the scope of his rifle at an area controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo' September 11, 2013.Analysts say the FSA lacks effective leadership.
Rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to take full advantage last week when the Army spread out its forces preparing for possible U.S. airstrikes, according to military analysts.
 
The Army’s troop redeployments gave the rebels with an opening to launch effective attacks, the analysts say, and their failure to seize the opportunity highlighted a lack of leadership and coordination. They say similar problems have plagued the rebels since they launched the uprising against the Assad regime two-and-a-half years ago.
 
When it looked as if the U.S. air strikes were imminent last week, key Syrian military units left their barracks and were dispersed among the civilian population and housed in schools and hospitals. The move to avoid struck by U.S. cruise missiles caused a lull in the Army’s ground offensive, say opposition activists.

But military analysts said there was no response from the rebels.
 
“One of the problems the opposition has is tied to command structure,” said Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
 
“If you take the four big [Free Syrian Army] brigades, you are talking on paper of 100,000 to 120,000 people, but they have a command and control and communications structure that is at the level of the First World War,” Nerguizian said. “The second problem is that they have manpower, but they don’t have a unified chain of command that allows them to do mass infantry assaults.”
 
As an example of what he’s talking about, Nerguizian notes that Syrian army garrisons inside rebel territory and defended by only a few hundred soldiers are able to hang on and defy assaults to overrun them.
 
Even highly prized targets have eluded the rebels for months in areas they dominate in the north. It took them over a year to seize the hotly contested Menagh air base near the northern city of Aleppo. The base finally fell this past summer.
 
Ineffective chain of command
 
On his appointment earlier this year to lead what is known as the rebel’s Supreme Military Command, Gen. Salim Idriss, a defector from the Syrian army, acknowledged he would face problems in shaping a chain of command capable of directing FSA brigades, whose commanders had been used to operating autonomously.
 
But little progress appears to have been made in overcoming the lack of coordination and in creating a unified and effective command structure, according to the experts.
Trying to mount a multi-brigade ground assault can takes days of tedious negotiations. That’s especially so when it involves units affiliated with jihadists such as al-Qaida.

Charles Lister of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center estimates the jihadists number about 10,000 mainly foreign fighters, and that Islamist militias are able to muster 20,000 to 35,000.

“The rebels have reverted back to their attrition tactics of one kill, one kill, one kill, hoping a trickle down effect will sap the morale of Assad forces,” says Nerguizian.

Making matters worse, military analysts note increased infighting between harder-line jihadists and Western-backed FSA rebel units. Earlier this year Al Qaeda fighters killed three FSA commanders in Latakia and Idlib.

Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center, also notes the rebels have failed to develop a political strategy that could persuade Assad supporters to change sides or to push for peace negotiations.

“The rebels have lacked political leadership from the start,” Sayigh said. “I think sometimes the lack of unity among the rebels is over-stated by the West at the expense of the lack of a clear political strategy for getting to the end-goal.

“How do you go from here to where the regime can no longer prevent its own supporters and constituencies from saying we want a deal?” Sayigh asks.
 
Government has problems too
 
But the Syrian government also has its problems. According to Nerguizian, Assad’s military has tactical challenges it is struggling to overcome.
 
“You have the reality that they are not able to conduct as they would wish to combined armor and infantry assaults,” Nerguizian said. “Which is one of the reasons you have seen so many attacks with chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs to make up for the shortfall.”
Syrian troops roll into the center of Qusair June 5, 2013, after capturing the stragegic town with key help from Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.Syrian troops roll into the center of Qusair June 5, 2013, after capturing the stragegic town with key help from Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
x
Syrian troops roll into the center of Qusair June 5, 2013, after capturing the stragegic town with key help from Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
Syrian troops roll into the center of Qusair June 5, 2013, after capturing the stragegic town with key help from Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

What has helped the Assad forces overcome their weaknesses has been the arrival on the battlefield of Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shi’ite movement.
 
Analysts estimate Hezbollah has fielded up to 10,000 experienced fighters and given the Assad regime the edge in key encounters such as the capture in June of the strategic town of Qusair on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier that had been in rebel hands for a year.  Iraqi Shiite volunteers have also bolstered Assad’s forces.
 
The foreign fighters have helped train pro-Assad militiamen gathered in the
National Defense Force, which Nerguizian believes will loom as a bigger factor when it becomes better organized under Hezbollah tutelage.

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid