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The war in Syria: when will this end?
Material posted: Publication date: 28-03-2017
New year the countries of the region met with hope for the potential stabilization of the situation. Syria survived the hard battle with the "Islamic state", and now gradually frees the territories captured before ISIS.

For 2015 and 2016, according to a report by IHS Conflict Monitoring[1] , the terrorist organization has lost a quarter of the territories that were controlled as of January 2015, both in Syria and in Iraq. At the same time, the Islamists failed to capture virtually no new territories. As last year ended with a landmark event – the liberation of Aleppo ("the economic capital of Syria") by government forces. The battle for the city lasted five years. The Syrian army has won and marked, therefore, a radical change in the war. But, it is worth noting the following important points:

  1. From 2011 to 2016, the Syrian army was reduced more than 2.5 times (from 300 thousand to 130 thousand people, respectively)[2]. Largely because of this, the army was forced to leave some areas of the country, in order not to lose the other.
  2. According to Syrian human rights activists, at least 70 thousand Syrian men avoid conscription. Also, more than 80 thousand troops and the militias fighting on the government side, were killed since the conflict began in 2011. There is a large number of deserters.
  3. For all the time of the civil war the armed forces lost more than 40% of armored vehicles[3], despite its large amount (the Syrian army has been a leader in the region according to the amount of military hardware as armed, and stationed in the warehouses).
  4. - Free Syrian Army (FSA), which referred to "moderate opposition" are deserters from the government forces (primarily Sunni). Now the number of PAS supported largely by jihadists arriving from Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia. They gradually replace the "- Syrian" "opposition". The very same "opposition movement" has according to different sources, about 40 thousand people.
  5. Overall, armed groups of insurgents operating in Syria, have high mobility, significant financial and human resources, allowing them to quickly create a shock group on the direction of focus upon information, military-technical support provided by Turkey, the US and several Arab monarchies[4].
  6. Damascus has a small number of really equipped and prepared for combat operations of formations and military units. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA – army of Syria), together with the so-called National self-Defense Forces (PDF) (militia or police) are actually disabled.
  7. As such, no system of training recruits.
  8. Morale of the personnel of the government forces is characterized as low.
  9. Syrian aircraft have a significant amount of obsolete equipment with high consumption of engine life, wear of components and assemblies. Also not the best way on the state of the weapons systems affected by the carelessness of crews of combat vehicles, misuse of equipment, lack of understanding of the commanders of the basics of tactics for their use.
  10. Missing quality secure communication system. As a result, the frequent lack of coordination units, data leakage as a result of intercept.
  11. Poor salaries of the personnel of the CAA (serviceman call get up to $30 on contract – up to $40, Junior officers — up to $80, senior officers – up to $150 per month). SAA soldier gets ten times smaller than the militant "Islamic state" (wages of an ordinary Thriller is $300, group commander – $500)[5].
  12. There is a "detachment" of the command structure of the Syrian army from ordinary soldiers.
  13. There is no system of centralized supply (financing) and acquisition of various units, departments, divisions, units, etc. Funding the fighting parts often occurs on a local basis, or the same individuals. This situation threatens the collapse of the system of material support of the CAA (which was not uniform).
  14. A considerable number of parts do not want to fight throughout Syria. An example is the Kurds, who even during the battle for Aleppo does not leave his quarter. The same applies to the various militias and units, formed on the local, monoreligioznoe or mono-ethnic basis. One exception is Alawite Republican guard.
  15. To create a "striking force" in any of these areas, it is necessary to gather the most suitable parts, pulling units from other fronts. At times, the process of accumulation of forces takes time.
  16. Separate problem is the periodic failures of the Syrian intelligence. A special case is the situation when ISIS gathered at Palmyra strike force of 4000 with equipment and supplies, in the middle of flat desert. Although not seen, this grouping was really hard.

In many ways, to solve these problems would help the funding authorities. Despite the fact that Syria's economy is prospects for the recovery, production in many sectors has fallen over 5 years by 50% or more[6] (which is, after all, is not a complete collapse), and Damascus are now nowhere to take the money.

All these factors have a negative impact on the personnel of the CAA, gradually decomposing it (given that not the best state of the CAA). And SSS is a paramilitary militia of volunteers, numbering according to various estimates, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand people, many of whom belong to national minorities, in principle, can not replace the army and jihadist loses to infantry in a direct collision. The "effectiveness" of the CAA (the conscript part of it) for a couple of SSS in terms of actual combat was demonstrated at the re-capture by ISIS militants of Palmyra. It seems that even the Syrian generals have little faith in the ability of its armed forces independently to restore order in the country, without military aid from foreign States and semi-legal groups. And one of the guards to sweep the entire country is that small.

Thus, there is a need to significantly increase the readiness, combat capability, ekipirovochnogo and manageability of the CAA. Otherwise Damascus will be faced with the threat of never-ending continuation of the war in terms of limitations and exhaustion of own resources. Also, all of the above facts explain why the offensive of government forces and allies is moving very slowly.

It should be noted that the beginning of the conflict, none of the 20 formally registered in the composition of the army divisions failed to put on the field of battle more than a third of the nominal composition. In the result, Damascus was able to mobilize 20 tactical units brigade level (from two to four thousand people), weakened by a wave of defections and heavy casualties, the cause of which is the incompetence of the Syrian commanders[7]. Thus, we have no more than 70 thousand members of the CAA, which can be roughly considered battle-worthy, although for the most part they are not involved in offensive operations, as posted on more than 2 thousand posts.

Realizing the gravity of the problems, standing in first place in front of the army, the command of the Syrian armed forces (naturally (of course) with the filing of the foreign advisers) were able to isolate several large groups from the CAA as a prop, the backbone of the army (by reason of unfitness for action of the majority of the CAA). They, of course, is not enough on all fronts, making it difficult to conduct planned combat operations, but their base is being formed at the call of a brand new numbered parts. Rapid military successes of the new part quite organized and re-motivated.

In addition, Damascus has a Republican Guard (RG) (at least 10 thousand people), 4th armored division Maher al-Assad (25 thousand people), units of special forces and various volunteer groups. These formation are the most reliable and efficient among all government-controlled Syria. Guard units involved in the battles against the opposition in Damascus, Aleppo, HOMS, etc. the Main difference WG from the other parts – it almost monoreligioznoe composition (alawites) and the advantage of new equipment and weapons. With it (as well as "Tigers" and the 4th Panzer division) working closely to the Russian advisers.

Russian instructors had practically nothing to train Syrian "elite" part of the modern tactics along the way, adapting them to the terrain. The mass conscript army of poorly motivated, poorly trained, has no idea of modern tactics, and prone to panic. Its use even in the rear garrisons leads to tragic results like the recent events in Palmyra[8].

Due to the very difficult situation for the CAA, Damascus received massive military assistance from Russia, Iran and Hezboly. Only to the liberation of Aleppo in addition to the Syrian troops were involved on different data at least 2-3 thousand foreign troops from Afghanistan and Iran under the leadership of the commanders of Iran's elite Islamic revolutionary guard Corps[9], the allies of Hezboly, group VC Russia, which for a long time caused most of the strikes on militants in Aleppo[10], and generally provided significant support to Assad[11]. Of course, the Western countries generally responded negatively[12] on the transition initiative in the fight against "Islamic state" on the side of Assad. Such a reaction is understandable, given that the retention part of the largest Syrian city of Damascus opposition forces was considered an important factor of political pressure on the Assad regime for the planned negotiations on the future of Syria[13]. But the West was deprived of this trump card.

It is worth noting that in recent times the terrorists lose control of a strategic triangle Manbij (under the control of the Kurds) – El-Bab (controlled by PAS (Turkey)) – Raqqah. Manbij is a strategically important settlement: the city is at the crossroads that link Raqqa Northern parts of the country and the province of Aleppo[14]. Defeat ISIS under al-Bab will lead to the fact that the Caliphate will lose their positions in Northern Syria and out to the border of Turkey (and thus access to the refugee camps, an inexhaustible resource of recruits for terrorists), so there are particularly heavy fighting.

It is noteworthy that in this situation Russia, Iran and Turkey announced the official truce between Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups (and Russia "strongly" asked the Syrian authorities to respect the ceasefire). On 23-24 January and between them, at the joint initiative of Russia and Turkey in Astana held talks.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, who acted as the guarantor on the Syrian issue, we agreed to create a "trilateral mechanism of monitoring compliance with the ceasefire regime and the lack of provocations in Syria." These efforts must be underpinned by a shared cooperation with the UN assistance. But absent any details, talking about the reality of creating such a mechanism of control over dozens of different groups in the "opposition", who are in the opposition, "raise the flag" of ISIS.

Apparently, the attempted settlement was not successful, including because of the thrust of the opposition to set the terms of their presence at negotiations and other requirements during the negotiation process that Assad no longer go.

The talks resulted in an ephemeral confirmation of the commitment of the major players the idea of the integrity and sovereignty of Syria. And really this idea from the mouth of Turkey sounds strange, because the Turkish troops are already in Syria as part of operation "shield of the Euphrates" and do not intend to stop its progress. Ankara the mouth of Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Numan Kurtulmus has said "the unwillingness to transfer the city of al-Bab, the Syrian military" after I knock out fighters of the "Islamic state".

In addition to the ideas of sovereignty, the result of the Astana negotiations of the guarantor countries reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against ISIS and "an-Nusra", and also stated the need to separate these groups from the armed opposition. However, such statements have been heard before, but did not lead to real results, and "splitting the opposition and terrorists" generally impractical and useless (the meaning of negotiate with some terrorists and fight others).

Apparently, the situation for Damascus folded heavy. And on this basis, the Syrian delegation in Astana refused further talks with the opposition. Was announced the next round of talks in Geneva, which took place on 8 February. "For this purpose the Syrian government is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition, which is related to foreign programs and working in a foreign force. Damascus is ready to do it to save Syria,"[15]. Russia also urged the new US administration affect controlled by the militants and to begin the process of a real fight against terrorism, and not to step back from the previous administration created a situation for Blignum Inthe East[16].

The current agreement on the truce radically different from the previous one. They are characterized by a different format and composition of participants. The truce arranged by the countries directly involved in the fighting in Syria. Russia tried to start the settlement process in a situation where Syria and Iran are in a strong position militarily and trying to impose his vision of the steps to resolve the conflict. However, the next round of talks on 8 February in what have not resulted, as was expected, the negotiations drag on and, in the end, frustrated. In order to push the other parties to the negotiations to intensify, it seems necessary that the Syrian troops scored a major victory over the militants.

It should be noted that the success of negotiations depends on a range of stakeholders, including countries of the other side – the opposition-Assad – the Arab monarchies and Western countries, the United States of America and the UN.

Undoubtedly, the most effective can be the work with the "armed opposition" (perhaps the least radical and not so motivated, as other fighters), a direct participant in Turkey and the main conductor – the United States, specifically the new administration.

However, the new President outlined the continuation of pressure on Iran, which would hinder the settlement process. It is doubtful that Washington in General will take an active part in the negotiations at this stage. We must not forget that D. trump has declared Iran a "terrorist state number one." 3 February, for the first time since the arrival of trump in the White house, the us Treasury imposed sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) because of the tests of a ballistic missile[17]. Overall, nothing critical happened, because the worst attitude to Iran, the US is unlikely, then only the war. While the United States seriously will not want to replay the nuclear deal, the situation will be relatively stable.

No doubt that the previous administration worked out plans of military operations against Iran, both directly and indirectly, for many years intensively arming and training the army of the Gulf. However, the "pen test" in Yemen showed that the "Arab coalition" is not as efficient, that would quickly overwhelm Iran. This again will lead to a protracted confrontation (to date, reliable information about testing this nuclear device is not). A monarchy for a year bogged down in the conflict in Yemen. Actually, the part controlled by the Saudis terrorists from Syria was transferred to Yemen in October – early November 2015. This was obletelo the position of Damascus, which then in the long run lost.

Russia in this situation is the most interested player. It must on the one hand urgently to portray "peace process" with the move towards negotiations[18]. On the other, these arrangements can become tools in negotiations with the United States. At the same time, the rhetoric of the U.S. led by the new President, declared ISIS as one of its main enemies in the international arena and promised a fresh start in the fight against terrorism does not yet have any practical impact for the majority of fighters[19].

However, even if the Syrian authorities will be able to conclude a full peace agreement with the "opposition", and it will run, you need to consider that it directly supports Turkey. At the right moment, the opposition can again act against Damascus. In addition, Ankara is directly involved in the Syrian conflict, and its units illegally entered Syria. According to the Minister of foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu, right now the army is preparing to conduct operations in the city of Manbij, which is controlled by Kurdish unit of the people's self-defense, and is also planning an offensive in Raqqa[20].

Also not going anywhere ISIS and many other groups, such as:

  • "Frente al-Nusra" (not less than 10 thousand people, the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria,[21])
  • "Ahrar al-sham" (up to 25 thousand of fighters[22])

And smaller groupings, components of the Jaish al-Fath ("Army of conquest"):

  • The Islamic front for the Liberation of Syria (SIPHO, about 40 thousand soldiers[23])
  • The Syrian Islamic front (SIF, not less than 30 thousand soldiers[24])

You must understand that the process of political settlement of the Syrian opposition promises to be long. After all, in Syria, in contact with many internal and external actors, each with their own interests and plans. Important is the fact that strategic instability in Syria and throughout the region in the interests of the United States, which, however, is not yet decided whether to continue the policy of spreading instability or revise it. Even if the conflicting parties fail to agree, the Syrian authorities face a long struggle with significant forces groups, refuse peaceful negotiations. In order to win in this match-up requires the power of the spirit, the will to win, determination, ingenuity, resourcefulness, tactical thinking and ability to think outside the box. And with that in the Syrian army, as history shows, there are problems.


Petrichuk Alexander



[2]the Military Balance 2011, p.474 the Military Balance in 2016, R. 354























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