Thu Dec 6, 2012, 06:36 PM
UnrepentantLiberal (11,700 posts)
Is Syria’s Civil War Entering Its Final Act, or Poised for a New Phase?
By Tony Karon
Dec. 06, 2012
The stern warnings by President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials this week that Syria‘s President Bashar Assad would face “consequences” and be “held accountable” for any use of chemical weapons against his own people, has amplified speculation that the country’s bloody civil war may be entering a terminal phase. After all, the regime is now using air strikes and artillery against insurgent neighborhoods in its own capital, having lost control of vast swathes of northern and eastern Syria. Assad had refrained from using stocks of weapons of mass destruction over the past 22 months, aware that doing so could force reluctant Western powers to intervene — and analysts had assumed that he might take such a risk only if he felt the wall at his back.
NBC News reported Wednesday that U.S. officials now say chemical munitions are being prepared for use by the Syrian military — after reporting a day earlier that a senior Pentagon official had said there was “no evidence yet that the Syrian military has actually begun the process of mixing precursor chemicals to produce deadly Sarin nerve gas.” Wednesday’s report suggested the Syrian military was, in fact, mixing precursor chemicals into bombs, but had not yet been ordered to use them.
Still, just what such reports might signal about the overall arc of events in Syria is unclear. There’s no question that rebel forces have made dramatic territorial gains over the past month, with insurgents boosting their artillery and surface-to-air missile capability as they overrun outlying military bases. Two regime aircraft have been downed by SAMs over the past two weeks, suggesting some rebel formations now had some means to defend against air strikes. And the regime’s increasingly besieged garrison in Aleppo is struggling to hold onto Syria’s second city, while the rebels have now launched what may be a sustained assault on the capital Damascus.
But for all of that writing on the wall, it may yet be premature to suggest that the 22-month civil war that has claimed more than 30,000 lives is near an end. The regime still has an overwhelming advantage in fire-power, analyst Joe Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War told the Washington Post this week, and the limits of rebel arms and organization may mean that their victory remains many months away. “What we’re seeing is a contraction from the regime,” Holliday said. “The rebels have been successful in forcing the regime to give up on outlying outposts.” The territory it has been forced to cede includes much of Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey, and oil fields in the east. Indeed, despite remaining the most powerful military player within the country, the Assad regime no longer controls Syria, which no longer functions as a single, centralized nation state. And its failure to destroy the rebellion or reverse its gains after two years of fighting will have signaled the regime’s strategic decision makers that restoring control over all of Syria may be a bridge too far. The decisive question, instead, may be the end-game logic of the “contraction” posited by Holliday.
Different rebel factions — which have yet to be consolidated under a single military or political leadership — control pockets of territory throughout the country, while an autonomous Kurdish zone has emerged along the Turkish border, ceded by the regime to Kurdish militia at odds with the rebellion. And even the major cities, Damascus and Aleppo, now contain internal, ethnic and sectarian “borders” across which mortar and artillery fire blazes. Absent a negotiated political solution, U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned last weekend, Syria could become a “failed state” where government institutions “whither away” to be replaced by “lawlessness, warlordism, banditry, narcotics, arms smuggling, and worst of all, the ugly face of communal and sectarian strife.”
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Thu Dec 6, 2012, 07:47 PM
UnrepentantLiberal (11,700 posts)
1. Syria's endgame in sight as rebels advance
By Ashley Fantz and Joe Sterling
Dec 6, 2012
They have seized control of key oil fields and territory in important areas of the north. They have audaciously fired on the Damascus airport and downed several military aircraft.
Rebels pounced on a key Air Force headquarters outside the northern city of Aleppo, seizing a large cache of weapons, and leaving the regime so desperate it bombed its own bases to prevent the rebels from getting any more.
It was another blow to Syria's army, which experts say is spent, stretched thin by desertions and defections.
Syrian rebels in Damascus say they are more organized, better armed with heavy weaponry, and ready to "cleanse Syria" of government forces, Free Syrian Army spokesman Abu Qutada told CNN.
He said the rebels have "started the ending battle" of the war.