In the past few months we’ve heard reports of advances by Syrian rebels that have put the regime on its heels, but the gains may instead be a tactical move by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.Victor Kotsev of the Asia Times reports that it seems “government forces purposefully surrendered territories with little to no resistance … to shorten their communication lines and to cut some expenses – but also in order to let the population taste a nightmare version of freedom which would conceivably lead many people to choose Assad’s rule as the lesser evil.”
The effects are both military and social: the regime relentlessly bombs newly “liberated” areas around Damascus — creating dire conditions on the ground — while rebels in the north and east loot buildings and attempt to keep towns running without food, water, electricity or money.
One fighter told the Guardian that rebels have become a huge problem around Aleppo as there are “battalions sitting in liberated areas who man checkpoints and detain people … They have become worse than the regime.”
The move has led to a political and military stalemate that plays into Assad’s hand by allowing him to conserve resources for defending key parts of Damascus (and the roads that lead to his ancestral homeland) while also leading some Syrians to agree with him that the rebels are a “bunch of criminals.”
Assad sympathizers with contacts in the regime told Emile Hoyakem of Foreign Policy that Assad’s plan is “to survive militarily and hold key cities, roads, and infrastructure” through 2013 with the expectation that “armed rebels will come to blows over territory, resources, tactics, and ideology.”
That strange part of all of this is that Jabhat al-Nusra — the radical Islamic group that has become the opposition’s best fighting force — may be OK with the prolonged strife. The lead author of a new analysis of the group, which is backed by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), told CNN that al-Nusra now has 5,000 fighters and is willing to watch Syria burn to secure a foothold in the area.
“The longer the conflict goes on, the stronger they will get,” he said.
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