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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs