Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains as defiant as ever, even as rebels assault the last major government military installation in the country’s north.Ivan Watson and Raja Razek CNN report that more than a month ago rebels began sieging the well-fortified Mannagh helicopter base, which rebels say is the last piece of government-controlled territory between Turkey and Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
“If the regime has even a 1% chance of taking back this region, this is a base that they would then want to rule from,” a commander of the rebel Northern Storm brigade told CNN. “Once it has been captured, the north will be liberated.”
CNN notes that the siege has recently received reinforcements in the form of members of Jabhat al-Nusra — the key hardline Islamist brigade known as the opposition’s best fighters — and that a Syrian special forces soldier who defected last week told CNN that the base has “so many weapons at the airport I can’t even count.”
But the offensive doesn’t seem to be rattling Assad, who has purposefully surrendered territories in the north and around Damascus so that he can conserve military resources, rely on a ruthless bombing campaign and force rebel-held areas to suffer without basic necessities.
The Times of Israel, citing French sources of the London daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, reports that UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told Assad that he could not defeat the rebels militarily to keep his grip on power, and Assad responded: “I will win the war, even if Damascus is destroyed.”
The quote cannot be independently verified, but Assad did say on Jan. 5 that “all of our politics has to be concentrated on winning this war.”
Assad’s confident resurgence further reflects his reported strategy to hold key parts of Damascus (and the roads that lead to his ancestral homeland) through the year with the expectation that the organisation of rebels will fall apart as different groups fight over territory, resources, tactics, and ideology.
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