In a rare public speech yesterday, Syria’s President Assad candidly acknowledged that his forces face a shortage of numbers and that his government must give up some parts of the country.
Speaking in a televised speech, Assad said that his army faces a “shortage in manpower.” AFP estimates that the once-300,000 strong Syrian army has been halved since the Syrian Civil War began, due to death, draft-dodging and defection. Assad announced an amnesty for those who avoided the draft or defected, in another sign that numbers are desperately needed.
The consequence, said Assad, of the depleted force is that they can no longer hope to control all of Syria. He said, “Sometimes in some circumstances we are compelled to give up areas in order to move forces to the area that we want to hold on to.” He added, “We must define the important regions that the armed forces hold onto so it doesn’t allow the collapse of the rest of the areas.”
It is thought that Assad will focus efforts holding on to the capital Damascus and the coastal cities of Homs and Hama. However, the BBC suggests that Assad’s grip on Aleppo is questionable. His forces have already lost the north-western provincial capital Idlib this year, while Raqqa has become the de factor ISIS capital.
Nonetheless, Assad struck a defiant tone, saying, “The word defeat does not exist in the Syrian army’s dictionary” and that there is no danger of “collapse.” Assad’s troops alongside their Hezbollah ally are currently engaged in an assault against Islamist forces at Zabadani near the Lebanese border. The Times suggest that Assad is becoming increasingly reliant on Hezbollah and their common patron, Iran.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah yesterday said publicly that despite the nuclear deal between Iran and the international community, “Iran’s relationship with its allies is based on ideological grounds” and will continue. He added that, “The United States is the Great Satan before and after the deal.”