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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid