Publication: The Military Balance 2014
05 February 2014
SYRIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR REGIONAL ARMED FORCES
The Syrian civil war grew more complex during 2013. The main armed struggle, between the Assad regime and rebel forces, was compounded by conflict within rebel ranks, direct intervention by Hizbullah, growing numbers of foreign Sunni jihadi fighters, and regional and global tensions. By the end of the year, the death toll had approached 120,000 and one-third of the total population was either displaced internally or had sought refuge abroad. The use of chemical weapons by Assad forces in August provoked an international outcry and the threat of force by the US and France.
Realising in late 2012 that much of the territory it had lost was either irretrievable or not worth the cost, the Assad regime set new, more realistic objectives and sought to adapt military strategy to shrinking resources and manpower. It focused on clearing a central corridor from Damascus to Homs, and on to Aleppo and then the coastal regions; and on securing its western flank bordering Lebanon, from which rebel fighters and their foreign allies operated. There, the regime established checkpoints manned by regular and auxiliary forces, and focused on isolating remaining rebel pockets and cutting supply routes. Securing this corridor meant sealing the border with Lebanon, primarily in cooperation with Hizbullah.
At the same time, the armed forces began a process of transformation, both organisationally and doctrinally, to fight an insurgency in a largely urban environment. Tactics alternated between ground operations and artillery-dominated assaults. Large units were broken down into smaller formations, old commanders were retired, and greater command responsibility was devolved to junior officers.