Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Wednesday that losing battles doesn't mean that the war is lost and that army troops would head to the outskirts of an insurgent-held town to help besieged soldiers holed up on its outskirts. The leader justified recent army setbacks as part of normal warfare.
Last month Islamist insurgents including al-Qaida's wing in Syria, Nusra Front, captured the town of Jisr al-Shughour in Syria's Idlib province, edging closer to the government-held heartland of Latakia along the coast.
"And now, God willing, the army
will arrive soon to these heroes who are besieged in the Jisr al-Shughour Hospital
to continue the battle to defeat the terrorists," he said in comment broadcast on Syrian state television.
He was speaking at a school in an undisclosed location at an event to commemorate Syria's Martyrs' Day
. In the rare public appearance, he was surrounded by throngs of people chanting in support. Security officials held back surging crowds.
Remarking that to-and-fro gains were normal in any war, Assad said the armed forces would remain resolute.
"Psychological defeat is the final defeat and we are not worried," he said.
Assad said while the army
was waging a relentless war across swathes of territory and gaining ground, there were occasions when the fighters had to "retreat back when the situation warrants".
Battles have been raging around the hospital on the southwestern outskirts of Jisr al-Shughour where army
forces and allied fighters have been holed up since the insurgent offensive began, according to the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights monitoring group.
Four years and 200,000 deaths later, some analysts have concluded
that Assad's regime may be coming to an end.
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.
“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 last week.
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.
“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.