The overall geostrategic characteristic of the Syrian military picture is a
robust armed struggle for supply routes, lines of communication, major highways
and key choke points that is somewhat similar to the initial phase of the first
Arab-Israeli War in 1947 – a battle for the roads.
As a component of the
Battle for Aleppo in the north; the M4 highway, which connects the Latakia coast
to Aleppo, and the M5 highway, which is the main connection between Damascus and
Aleppo, are the two most important supply lines, and the fight has been
unfolding through key choke points.
Milestones related to the Battle for
Aleppo (i.e. seizure of the Taftanaz Base, seizure of the 46th Regiment’s base
in Atareb, the Battle of Ma’arat al-Nu’man, the Battle of Saraqeb, the Wadi
al-Deif Siege) took place in key positions that rest along the major highways or
their surroundings that reinforcements and military assistance can pass
Above all, the political context of the Battle for Aleppo, and
of the northern front in a greater sense, is about securing this commercial hub
and its surrounding provinces in order to establish a viable opposition
governance and geostrategic enclave. Thus, the struggle for control of the lines
of communication which run along northern parts of the country is
MORE SUPPLY lines controlled by the opposition would bring about
more regime air dependence for supplies and reinforcements. In this context,
additional MANPADS and other air-defense assets obtained by the opposition will
restrict the Ba’athist regime’s air missions, especially Assad’s rotary-winged
The city of Homs and the town of Qusayr are also important
geostrategic variables, especially due to their locations as hubs between the
capital and the Alawite-populated coastal areas, as well as being Assad’s and
his Iranian allies’ gate to the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Moreover, in case
Homs falls to the opposition, scenarios concerning possible emergence of a
micro-Alawite state in a divided Syria might probably be altered.
the pivotal role of Homs and its surrounding hub region, Assad has allocated a
significant number of his troops to this area, including the active operational
participation of units from the elite 4th Armored Division. This force
concentration has left some large swaths open for the opposition
The situation in the south, particularly along the Jordanian
border, more or less resembles the military trend in the north with respect to
the major highways and supply lines. On the other hand, the main goal in the
north is securing Aleppo as a liberated capital for the opposition rather than
marching to Damascus; while in the south, it is essentially about isolating
Assad in Damascus and opening a gateway to the capital.
opposition continue to progress, the probable finale for the Syrian civil war
would be a siege on Damascus.
ALONG WITH its geostrategic
characteristics, the prolonged Syrian civil war possesses other significant
characteristics: it began as a “low-intensity conflict,” and gradually evolved
into the most recent example of what is known as hybrid warfare. Briefly, this
means warfare in which meaningful operational integrity between regular and
irregular capabilities is maintained.
The overall picture has gradually
become complicated by the involvement of air force, MANPADS, armored units and
paramilitary forces acting in coordination with regular military units. Assad’s
forces have had to depart from their traditional, centralized, Soviet- type
military doctrine and adopt more flexible tactics to counter both geostrategic
and tactical diversification by the opposition elements.
From the early
stages of the conflict Assad has relied on his praetorian units (the 4th Armored
Division, Republican Guards, and special forces), all of which were designed for
the dual missions of conventional warfare and regime security.
strategy has prevented mass unit defections, defection of an armored division as
a whole, for instance, but has also limited the Ba’athist dictatorship’s combat
power by approximately one-third.
An additional factor is that Assad’s
over-reliance on “politico-religious” trusted units has brought about the
dissolution of the Syrian “nation,” to the extent that even should the
opposition successfully topple Assad’s tyranny, it is unclear whether the new
regime would be able to reunite the country.
Along with some other
factors, the hybrid character of the conflict has prolonged it – this type of
armed conflict is more a “war of attrition” than mechanized warfare-type “war of
In keeping with this, to make predictions regarding the
outcome, one’s focus should be on the gamechanging stamina factor. In the
context of modern warfare, one of the key components of “military stamina” is
foreign arms supplies.
Videos have appeared online depicting opposition
fighters carrying weapons that were never a part of the Syrian inventory. Among
these are the RPG-22 and M79 Osa rocket launchers, M60 recoilless rifles, Milkor
MGL/RBG- 6 grenade launchers and FN-6 MANPADs.
The regime, on the other
hand, is fed materiel aid by Russia and Iran, and manpower with the influx of
Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Quds forces. These forces continue to train the
now more than 50,000-strong Shabiha militia.
The materiel and personnel
are believed to enter the country via the Lebanese and Iraqi borders and through
IN SUMMARY, in analyzing the possible trajectories the Syrian
conflict may follow, four major factors should be tracked: 1) Drastic changes in
the opposition’s air defense & MANPADS capabilities; 2) Attrition of Assad’s
air assets and praetorian units, along with robustness and consistency of
foreign assistance by the Ba’athist regime’s allies and friends; 3) Shifts in
the prospects of a no-fly zone in Syria; and 4) Developments concerning the WMD
This op-ed was adapted from the Istanbul- based think tank EDAM’s
monograph: The Syrian Civil War, penned by Dr. Can Kasapoglu and Doruk Ergun,
who are working for EDAM as research fellow and research assistant,
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin