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Report on the Situation in Syria

30 Sep 2014 Political and military background

While the international media concentrates on the fast-moving events in Iraq, the war in Syria continues, though in the long run it will be deeply affected by what is happening in Iraq.

Details within Syria are sketchy and on-the-ground news thin, but it seems the battle for Qalamoun and Homs has halted ISIS from enlarging their territory south to the border of Lebanon. At present, ISIS groups are dominating at least two governorates in the northeastern part of the country (Raqqa and Deir Ezzor) as well as parts to the north of Aleppo and near Hassake.

The conflict in Syria has become an intensely complex affair, with overlapping political, religious, sectarian, ethnic and tribal narratives. The coalition against ISIS — led by the United States — may create more chaos should it succeed in defeating the Islamic militants. With the absence of a reliable, moderate opposition, and the refusal of the international community to cooperate with the Assad regime, the future of Syria remains unclear, especially as violence will likely continue for an unknown period of time. Both sides in the conflict receive considerable levels of support from foreign states, organizations and individuals.

According to a recently published study by Charles Lister for the Brookings Institute, the military landscape in Syria can be summarized as follows:

The anti-government insurgency currently involves between 100,000 and 120,000 fighters — roughly 7,000 to 10,000 of whom are non-Syrian nationals — divided among a thousand distinct armed units.

Regime side
Government forces — principally the Syrian Arab Army — have encouraged and adapted to the war’s sectarian overtones, primarily deploying Shia and Alawi units in front-line operations alongside increasingly professionalized paramilitaries and Shia militias composed largely of foreign fighters, such as Hezbollah.

Prior to the outbreak of the revolution in Syria, the SAA could deploy 295,000 men. As of this past April, the SAA had incurred at least 35,601 fatalities. When combined with a reasonable ratio of three wounded personnel for every soldier killed and approximately 50,000 defections, this suggests the SAA presently commands roughly 125,000 men. In order to fill the gap, the Syrian army is relying more and more on the government-initiated and state-backed NDF, which consists of civilian volunteers trained by Hezbollah and Iran. The NDF now constitutes as many as 100,000 personnel.

Conflict assessment
The conflict in Syria contains countless fronts and dozens, if not hundreds, of localized theaters of battle. Taken together, neither the opposition nor the Assad regime, the Kurds nor the jihadist groups can be said to be “winning.” While one side may make gains in one area, the other invariably secures victory in another.

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