(photo credit: REUTERS)
Four years and 200,000 deaths later, the regime of Bashar Assad may be on its last leg.
The Syrian army, with low morale, internal divisions and rapidly decreasing popularity, is facing its most serious challenges since the civil war began four years ago.
Multiple rebel offenses have seen strategically important cities fall to rebel control, such as Idlib and Jisr al-Shegour in the North, and a concerted rebel drive making its way toward Damascus in the South.
“The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” said a senior United States official in Washington who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
As a result, Assad is being forced to lean on greater foreign support to prop up his ailing government, especially Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group allied with Iran. In fact, Hezbollah now plays the main role or even directs the fight in many places, angering some Syrian officers, according to Syrian soldiers as well as the senior US official and a Syrian with close ties to the security establishment, the Times added.
Since the beginning of the civil war, Assad’s forces have suffered devastating losses; high casualty and desertion rates have wiped out half of his military personnel.
“Four years ago, Syria’s army had 250,000 soldiers; now, because of casualties and desertions, it has 125,000 regulars, alongside 125,000 pro-government militia members, including Iranian-trained Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghan Hazaras,” the newspaper reported.
This foreign assistance has boosted Assad’s firepower considerably, yet the patchwork of smaller foreign units and irregular forces has hindered the regime’s ability to control the military as an overarching force.
This shortage of homegrown fighters in Assad’s campaign against rebel forces has led the regime to prohibit military-age males from exiting the country and to force discharged soldiers back into service. This has fomented discontent and further eroded support among Assad’s base.
In another troubling sign for the state, fissures have erupted within the regime, highlighting how dysfunctional mechanisms within the government have become. The government recently dismissed the heads of two of its four main intelligence agencies after they quarreled over the role of foreign fighters, according the Times. One subsequently died; the other’s guards reportedly beat him to death.
Years of civil war have destroyed the economy, leaving the regime nearly destitute. At the beginning of the war, Syria held $30 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Four years later, that has dwindled to a mere $1b.
The Syrian pound has taken a huge hit, decreasing in value steadily as foreign capital continues to flee. This has increased discontent within the military, as personnel continue to receive the same salaries, but in an increasingly worthless currency.