The Assad Regime Is Running Low On Soldiers

Bashar AssadREUTERS/SANA/HandoutSyrian president Bashar Assad.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is increasing pressure on draft dodgers in recent months, with arrests and regulations to prevent military-aged males from leaving the country, the Washington Post reported.

The regime called up thousands of reservists leading up to October and increased raids on public spaces and homes to apprehend those suspected of avoiding duty.

Checkpoints have also been set up to intercept anyone avoiding service in a 4-year-long war effort that may be losing popularity even among the traditional supporters of the Assad regime.

The efforts come at a low point in the Syrian military’s overall manpower: Its ranks have fallen from more than 300,000 servicemen at the start of the uprising in 2011 to just half that figure, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.

The Washington Post spoke with a few Syrians affected by the new crackdown. One of them, a Syrian Christian living in Damascus, was called up as a reservist even though he completed his mandatory military service in 2009 (all men over 18 years of age in Syria contribute a year and a half of service to the country’s military).

Combat fatalities have surpassed the 44,000 mark according to human rights monitors cited by the Washington Post, though desertion and defection have also contributed to the drain on regime manpower. 

In contrast to this weakness, rebel groups around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, agreed last week to band together in their common goal of toppling Assad. The groups announced a “total merger under one flag and united leadership,” according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Aleppo is one of the few remaining strongholds of Syria’s secular anti-regime rebels. Maintaining a foothold within the divided and heavily-contested city is considered key to the rebel movement’s survival, while the rebels’ defeat in the city would greatly hasten a regime victory.

Mujahideen Army Moderate Syria Rebels 1Hosam Katan/ReutersA fighter from the Mujahideen Army, one of the groups that partook in a merger among rebels last week, walks through Aleppo on Nov. 18, 2014.

Neither the plunge in manpower or the new alliance in Aleppo is enough to suggest that Assad’s regime is  in imminent danger of collapse. Assad has frustrated expectations of his impending fall and the war has displaced millions of Syrians and left roughly 200,000 dead without toppling him from power.

The Washington Post casts the Syrian regime’s efforts as a drive for a stronger negotiating position before potential peace talks encouraged by Russia, one of Assad’s strongest foreign supporters. The last round of peace talks in Geneva collapsed in February.

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