Monday, October 27, 2014

Assad forces capture key central town from Al Qaeda-linked rebels

The Syrian military is taking more territory in the central province of Hama and are reported to have retaken the town of Morek. The town is important because it is close to the crucial Damascus-Aleppo highway arguably the most important road in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that supports the rebels reports that the town is under the control of the military but surprisingly Syrian State media reported only that the military held most of the town. The town was seized by rebels with the Al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front nine months ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights statement said: "Regime troops and their militia allies took back total control of Morek in the north of Hama countryside, after fierce battles that have raged" The battles began on Wednesday night and the assault was aided by air raids.
 As the Syrian government has now secured most of metro Damascus, they are moving north towards Aleppo to regain territory on the road towards Aleppo hoping to gain control of the city. The regime lost control of much of the road to Aleppo since a rebel offensive in July of 2012. The town is also near the province of Idlib held mostly by moderate rebels who managed to drive out the IS earlier in the year. So far the Syrian conflict is estimated to have killed more than 180,000 people and forced almost half the population from their homes in an attempt to flee the battle. The war has taken a heavy toll on the Syrian army as well since the conflict began back in 2011. 
 Aram Nerguizian of the Centtre for Strategic and International Studies told AFP: "Defections, desertions and attrition after three years of civil war saw Syria's total manpower decline from a high of 325,000 in 2011 to 295,000 in 2012 to an estimated 178,000 in 2013 and 2014," This does not mean that Assad's forces are much weaker now. They are now experienced fighters adept at counter insurgency tactics. They are helped also by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and by military aid from Russia and Iran. They have gradually been regaining some ground.
The concentration upon the defeat of ISIS with US bombing has only helped. Even worse from the rebel point of view the US bombed Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front a key ally of the rebels in the fight against Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that some 40,000 soldiers along with 27,000 pro-regime forces have been killed in the conflict as well as 55,000 rebel fighters. So far the Syrian army has not had any special recruitment campaign but Syrian men between 18 and 50 are required to serve at least 18 months, a term which can be extended. Neguizian noted: "The insurgency in Syria forced Syrian ground forces, and manpower in general, to either adapt or die. Large units were divided up into smaller nimbler units, ineffective and ageing leadership was sidelined, and new or emerging junior officers began to take on greater operational responsibility." Stephen Biddle of the US Council on Foreign Relations said that Assad is unlikely to be able to defeat the rebels and take back all the territory he has lost at least not in the near future.

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