Seven Years into the Civil War: What is left of the “Syrian Arab Army” ?


By Patrick BAHZAD

Time and again since 2011, there have been reports about the erosion of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), with some observers even arguing that there is not much left of it. The influx of pro-regime foreign fighters in particular has been a point of contention among experts. However, while statements regarding the alleged state of disarray of the SAA are exaggerated, there is no doubt that today's force only vaguely resembles what it used to be seven years ago.

When making comparisons over time, it is important to remember where the starting point was, before assessing the nature and quality of the changes that occured. As far as the SAA is concerned, this means taking into account the fact that it used to be largely a conscript army, based on the Soviet model, but with a Middle-Eastern background. In 2011, the SAA officially featured a total strength in excess of 200 000 men in full battle order, but it would probably be fair to say that its combat readiness at that time did not amount to much.

There were very few professional regiment or brigade sized units and those that existed were more of a praetorian guard protecting the regime against enemies from within, rather than a proper field army that could have sustained combat against battle hardened adversaries. Therefore, it was no surprise that news of mass desertions, in particular in the first year of the war, prompted many experts into thinking that the SAA would dissolve pretty quickly, thereby taking down the regime with it.

Structural changes induced by high casualty rates

Nothing of the sort has happened however, for various reasons, and the SAA is currently the largest – and possibly the only – multi-confessional armed force in the region. That is not to say that large segments of the Sunni population have not gone over to the opposition, but the narrative of a totally sectarian SAA does not reflect reality. If it did, the war would not have lasted this long anyway ! Through the various phases of the war, the SAA underwent significant changes however, linked first of all to the casualties it suffered.

Estimates may vary, but it is clear that government forces (whether SAA as such, or pro-regime militias) have been seriously diminished by the fighting. This attrition has forced Assad and his allies to restructure his force. It is probably safe to assume that 150 000 regime troops have been KIA so far, possibly more. This is a very high casualty rate, considering the limited demographic pool that Assad can count on (around 10 million people in total). Such a figure would be roughly equal to some 450 000 KIA in the case of the US. Needless to say, no army survives casualties that high without undergoing serious change.

In this regard, two elements need to be mentioned: first of all, until 2015, efforts at reorganizing the SAA followed Iranian principles of decentralizing defences and recruiting local militias that were loosely placed under the authority of the "National Defence Forces" (NDF). Ever since the Russian intervention in 2015 however, at a time of great peril for the regime, the restructuring has focused on reinforcing the SAA as such, with a "train and equip" program of Russian making, as well as the implementation of new centralized "command and control" structures for increased efficiency on the battlefield.

Based on various estimates available and the type of restructuring that occurred, the current battle strength of the SAA is likely to be around 60 000 men (air force and air defences included). It needs to be added that this is not the total strength of the regime's forces, as a number of local and national militias, as well as the much talked about foreign fighters are not included in those numbers. The total manpower of the regime is therefore somewhere in the range of 120 000 (or 125 000 if you add the Russian expeditionary force). This is a small force if you look at the territory it operates in, and there are obviously a number of contingencies that this situation implies.

Territorial Gains

Although many doubted the feasibility and possible success of the Russian operation, it is very clear today that Russian help (training, equipment and support on the ground) brought about a strategic change in the war, meaning Assad cannot be defeated militarily anymore. Starting with the end to the siege of regime held Aleppo, followed by the retaking of rebel areas in the East of the city (a prowess many of the so-called experts did not consider possible), then the negotiated end to significant parts of the rebellion in the South and West, and finally the big push towards ISIS in the East, the SAA and its allies achieved significant military successes in the two and a half years since late 2015.

Today, the only sizeable areas that are not under regime control are the Kurdish held areas in the North and East, as well as Idlib province, where ongoing operations will end with another regime advance in large parts of that region, with some areas possibly entering into a Turkish sponsored "de-escalation deal". There are also smaller areas to the South and West of Damascus under rebel control, but the local dynamics there are totally different due to this area's strategic importance both to Lebanese Hezbollah (and its Iranian sponsors) and to Israel.

Before looking at the operational history of the SAA, and what it says about its capabilities, let us first deal with the one issue that seems to have captivated everybody's attention, in particular among those who predicted the SAA's downfall. Yes, pro-regime foreign fighters have been present on the ground ever since late 2012, when Hezbollah first entered the fray. However, statements – such as those made by the National Security Advisor – suggesting that "up to 80 % of Assad's fighters are foreigners" are largely baseless. This 80 % ratio may apply to specific battlefields, but it is way off the mark as far as the global picture is concerned.

Pro-regime foreign fighters

The SAA has serious manpower issues, but it is not a foreign mercenary army fighting for Assad. And although the number of pro-regime foreign militias (Lebanese or Iraqi Hezbollah, Afghan Hazaras, Pakistanis, Palestinians and even Iranian IRGC "advisors") is significant, analysis of the casualties suffered by these groups strongly suggests that their share of the regime's total fighting force is somewhere between 15 % and 20 %.

In early January 2018, IDF Chief of Staff General Eisenkot put the number of pro-regime foreign fighters at roughly 20 000, among them some 8 000 Lebanese Hezbollah, 2 000 Iranian "advisors" and various other foreign groups. Eisenkot can hardly be suspected of any sympathy towards the regime, but his assessment is much in line with global casualty estimates. Those numbers are very far from fictional estimates about tens of thousands of foreigners fighting Assad's war.

The truth is, the regime's forces remain largely Syrian, and so do the casualties. That notwithstanding, there are obvious differences in the operational quality the foreign militias bring to the battlefield: while Lebanese Hezbollah could be regarded as a component of the regime's special forces units, Afghan "Fatemiyoun" soldiers look much more like the cannon fodder of the old days.

As a trend, it is clear that the influx of pro-regime foreign fighters has increased over the years, which bears testimony to the attrition rate and recruitment issues of the regime. For the time being however, and considering the current intensity of combat operations, everything indicates that the SAA will be able to sustain its war efforts without resorting to more foreign recruitment. Therefore, the argument according to which the vast majority of the regime forces are foreign has to be dismissed. Areas of real concern lay elsewhere.

Operational Capabilities

Looking back at the recent performance of the SAA, a few observations need to be made. First of all, Russian support is absolutely vital to the durability of the SAA and its prevailing on the battlefield. Iranian sponsored groups may be providing extra manpower, but the necessary firepower and logistics is mostly dependent on Russian involvement. This is a fact any assessment of the SAA's current operational capabilities needs to recognize: without the Russians' deliveries of equipment, without their training and without their involvement on the ground (mostly with CAS and indirect artillery fire), there would be no SAA left today.

A similar logic applies to other armies of the region, because neither Iraqi security forces nor Kurdish YPG/SDF forces would have prevailed against IS without the massive air support of the Coalition and the US in particular. In the case of the SAA, this dependence upon the RuAF is a serious shortcoming that is cause for concern not just for the regime, but also for the Russians, who do not want to get bogged down into another "forever war" and need to find a way to further bolster and improve the SAA's own air force and air defence capabilities. It is not an easy undertaking, nor is it going to be cheap. Time will tell…

Additionally, the timeline of SAA operations shows that it is only capable of one large offensive operation at a time. The SAA may be able to take on ISIS in Eastern Syria (with Russian CAS and with help from foreign militias), but if there is a large scale counter attack in Idlib at the same time, they need to put operations on the back burner until things have calmed down. This constitutes another serious flaw, particularly at a time when the SAA might have to engage various opponents simultaneously, although on a smaller scale. 

A small battle-hardened, armoured force

That being said, there have been qualitative improvements both in structure and operational conduct over the years. On the one hand, the Russians identified and remedied equipment and structural shortcomings that had been very clear for quite a while: by creating, equipping and training two new army corps (the 4th and 5th), the Russians built the base for the current advances on the ground. In truth, these corps are new in part only: most of their manpower is derived from the reconditioning of existing units, which underwent additional training and were equipped with modern weapons systems, in particular armour and artillery, including state-of-the-art multiple rocket launchers. This restructuring into larger armour units, and the additional firepower provided by artillery systems, were crucial. Not only did the SAA need new gear to deal with the rebels' ATGMs in open field engagements, but first and foremost, it needed to be able to perform combined arms, even at a basic level. Enemy contact in the fall of 2015 indicated that the Russians were all but thrilled with the abilities displayed by the Syrians. Today, the SAA looks a different force in that regard.

It has displayed abilities that its Iraqi counterpart clearly does not possess for example, and it has a few "high speed" armour units that rank among the most proficient in the region (Turkey included, with Israel being a different story). The "Tiger Force" features most prominently among those and has a proven track record as a unit with good all-round offensive capabilities. There are a few others as well though, which are not mentioned as often: mostly"Republican Guard" sub-units, which have a wider array of know-how but are spread over several areas of Syrian territory, and the "4th Mechanized Division". It is these units, that were part of the regime's most trusted ones at the beginning of the war, that spearhead many of its operations today. They are the ones who probably saved the day when things looked very bleak for Assad, early in 2015. Today, they provide the backbone of the SAA, they are battle-hardened, determined and ideologically reliable.

However, the small number and limited manpower of those units is also the reason why simultaneous offensive operations are a difficult task: the SAA has only so many larger units capable of engaging an enemy in combination with air support and artillery fire, and manoeuvring on open terrain as well as in urban environments. But that is already a big achievement. Looking at the mess the Iraqis made of Mosul, with a numerical advantage of 20 to 1 and Coalition aircraft ruling the skies, it is important to underline the SAA's improvement in these areas. Its operational success is even more impressive, givent that it was achieved at moderate financial cost, compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars that were poured into the Iraqi army.

Leadership and Experience

More globally, today's SAA is certainly a much smaller and compact force, but it has gained lots of experience from the battlefields it has mastered. The way the "Tiger Force" managed to break through rebel defences in Aleppo, before advancing inside the defensive perimeter with armour and air support, needs to be acknowledged. These "assault" and "intrusion" capabilities are a distinct feature of the experience gained by the SAA. In Aleppo in late 2016 and in Deir-ez-Zor last year, these units proved that the SAA had learned it lessons and was now capable to conduct complex operations, shaping the urban terrain, including with covert and psychological operations, in a way that is new to Middle-Eastern armed forces, again keeping in mind the counter-example of the Iraqi led operation on Mosul or the joint SDF-Coalition assault on Raqqa.

The experience that was gained with those operations is of particular importance to the SAA's leadership, and I'm not just talking about Generals like Suheil al-Hassan. Leaders at platoon and company level, i.e. the COs who are on the frontlines of the war, will benefit from the successful operations they have conducted. There is no better teacher than war itself – provided your survive it – and from that point of view, the SAA is certainly much better off with a smaller, combat proven force, rather than a 200 000 conscripts' army that has never seen a fight. 

There is however an important downside to the emergence of a new military leadership boosting self-confidence and an impeccable track-record: when the dust settles over the battlefield and the time has come to decide about the spoils of war, competition is usually pretty hard – especially after a civil war. Like neighbouring Lebanon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Syria is likely to be confronted with a political fragmentation even on the regime side, with generals and militia leaders trying to carve out a fiefdom of their own, or maybe even aiming for a higher reward. Such a turn of events does not always end well for those involved …

Which way ahead ?

Overall, the picture is complex. The SAA is not a spent force, that much is clear. But it is much smaller than before the war. It is not an empty shell either, filled up with foreign mercenaries. But it still needs Russian support and Iranian sponsored manpower. It also suffers from a large technological gap with more advanced powers, especially as far as its air force is concerned. On the other hand, it is now combat proven and has the ability to conduct modern combined arms, including in urban environments. Compared to most armed forces of the region, these features do stand out as important qualities. They will definitely be enough to get the better of the Al Qaeda "light" groups that still roam freely in Idlib.

Whether this would be sufficient against Coalition supported YPG/SDF in Northern Syria is doubtful. But that is probably not the aim anyway. Other actors come into play into that equation and secret meetings or negotiations will probably play a more important role than operations on the battlefield. The situation in Syria's North and East strongly depends on tribal dynamics. This is what the regime will be focusing on, more than on military offensives. Iran though may want to play another card, and so may Turkey. Therefore, the potential for armed conflict and escalation definitely exists, but the prospect of large scale engagements involving SAA troops seems rather unlikely.

Instead, we are likely to witness a mix of asymmetrical warfare and political compromise, where combat readiness, fighting power and air superiority might be nullified by a strategy that aims at controlling the population and undercutting the adversary's support among the locals. As far as the SAA is concerned, this is probably for the better, as it does not have the capability to confront American military might, nor the manpower to hold onto large areas against an enemy reversing back to insurgency mode. Syria's North can only fall into regime hands if Moscow, Damascus and Teheran manage to incentivise local (Arab) tribes into pledging their loyalty to the regime.

Overall, the most likely prospect for continued military engagement of the SAA will be in the small Southern areas that are still under Al Qaeda or ISIS control. A shift has already started towards directing resources and manpower into those areas. The SAA has acquired enough experience to deal with these groups, but in this part of the country too, other players – Hezbollah, Iran and Israel – have strategic interests that will shape the turn of events. The current war is nearing its end and the SAA has prevailed. It  now remains to be seen what role the SAA will play, if at all, in the war that may just be about to start.  

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38 Responses to Seven Years into the Civil War: What is left of the “Syrian Arab Army” ?

  1. turcopolier says:

    Patrick Bahzad
    Superb work. thanks. pl

  2. Anna says:

    Explanation of the reasons for the onging Middle Eastern wars:
    “A new geopolitical confrontation is shaping up in the Middle East, and not only between Israel and Syria or Iran. Like most conflicts there, it involves a fight for hydrocarbon resources—oil and gas. The new focus is a dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the precise demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zone between the two countries. … The whole situation has the potential to lead to an ugly wider war…”

  3. Patrick Bahzad,
    Thanks for that. Very good to have you back posting. A lot of food for thought.
    One comes back to the basic point that unless one gets the military technicalities right, one’s political analysis is liable to end up completely off the mark. And the reverse is obviously also true – that military analysis without grasp of the relevant politics is liable to come unstuck.
    People should read Clausewitz more.
    The inability of almost everyone in the West to grasp that the Russians were in a position to have a reasonable prospect of success in finessing objectives in tension – preventing the fall of Assad, while avoiding an Afghanistan-style quagmire – would seem to illustrate what happens when people lack the intellectual equipment to do the relevant political and military analysis, and integrate them.
    A further paradoxical result of all this is that Putin, who has always been concerned to maintain good relations with Israel, ended up in a position where he had to do everything possible to make the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ capable of fighting modern warfare: which one would have thought is not exactly what the Israelis want.
    How well the Russians can continue to finesse these objectives successfully, of course, is an interesting question.

  4. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Thank you for this analysis. I have two questions:
    1-re: “On the other hand, it is doubtful that they would be sufficient against Coalition supported YPG/SDF in Northern Syria.”
    If we assume that Coalition Air is balanced by the RuAF, how would you compare SAA w/ the YPG irregulars?
    2-Which “coalition” countries, outside the USA, would commit regular troops to battle if push does come to shove?
    Ishmael Zechariah

  5. SmoothieX12 says:

    Great stuff, thank you.

  6. Jony Kanuck says:

    Thank you for this comprehensive survey.
    According to Magnier, last weekend when air combat got going, the SAA & Hezbollah went to full alert – ready to head to the Golan & tear into the IDF. However, after losing the F16, Israel seems to have lost interest in a ground invasion of Lebanon, for now. Again, according to Magnier, Hezbollah & the SAA do have an intention of taking the Golan Hts back, maybe next year.

  7. Charles Michael says:

    superb work
    Many thanks Patrick bahzad,
    and to this Outpost.

  8. Pacifca Advocate says:

    Wow. Amazing analysis, Mr. Azad. Thank you for it. I am grateful for your testimony, which obviously includes a great deal of personal investment in this conflict. Thank you, very much.
    My question is: What political or military issues do you think might divide Hizb’Allah, Iran, and Syria in their currently unified opposition to Israel? At this point in time, what distance is there between “ideological”, “existential,” and “practical”, for any of those three groups? The “Shia Crescent” exists not, IMO, because of some nefarious plot, but because of pressure from the outside–practical necessity, IOW. This seems, to me, to be the historical motif of this particular part of the planet: Persia is the more-Agrarian, the Levant is the more-maritime/mercantile, and both feel constant pressure from the nomadic-founded cultures that surround them: Turkey (pre-Byzantine), the Kurds (which make up a lot of pre-Turkey Byzantium), the Arabs, and how many different Turko-Mongolic tribes fighting down from way-Eastern Siberia, to maraud and conquer big parts of Afghanistan and Persia/Iran/India?
    This is the historical context in which these three regions–the Levant, Greater Syria, and Iran–locate themselves: three largely sedentary, multi-confessional (“free-spirited”) regions which are constantly beset by attacks from foreign invaders that often debilitates all three. It seems, to me, that the last 75 years of their experience re-inforces–rather than erodes–the idea that the Ba’ath was a pro-democracy, pro-secular, pro-…populist? Is it wrong to be fighting for one’s people, in a colonialist country?
    So…the Ba’Ath were populist Arabs. The Alawites took control of things after massacres…”happened.”
    Similar massacres “happened” later on, and again.
    Wrt Russia, Iran? …nah. No need to ‘splain.
    W/r/t China? — The nurtured Uighur rebellion, for one–but there is also that whole “We are the trading partners who aren’t going to dictate to you what our terms are before we do trade–we are the traders. We have always been the traders. Look back in history.”
    And the problem is–they’re right. The bad examples of trading are all heaped on the back of British, US, and French imperialism.
    So sad, to be at such a point–
    So back to my first point: what political or military issues do you think might possibly work to divide Hizb’Allah, the SAA, Iran/Iraq formal/informal forces, and Russia/China to split on what should be done to protect the area?

  9. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Patrick B.,
    Thank you for the enlightening post.
    Curious how “serious” the prospect of an “actual” fight, going beyond some skirmishes and the like, between SAA and the YPG is. The Kurds seem to be keeping their options open, especially in face of Turkish machinations, and Damascus does not seem eager to antagonize them unless things fall apart drastically. A limited clash in the south, where Hizbullah and SAA, along with their allies, get into a tangle (probably not a “serious” (as in all out) conflict) with Israel seems at least as plausible.
    More generally, I’m curious of your thoughts about how realistic expansion of conflicts (involving factions not yet in full conflict with each other–for example, Turkey and its proxies and Israel vs. SAA/Hizbullah/Iranians in and around Syria might be and how much resource might these factions be able and willing to throw into the affair, should such arise. I am guessing that the constraints are imposed by politics, much more than material capabilities.

  10. I don’t think US air power is balanced by the Russians, The US can dump more air assets into Syria than Russia can on short notice. And Russian and Syrian air defenses can be overwhelmed if it comes to that, although not without significant cost.
    France probably wouldn’t commit troops, but Macron has been making noises about air strikes on Syria if it’s proven Syria is using chemical weapons (which they aren’t.)
    I doubt that the US will unilaterally escalate the situation to a direct confrontation in Syria alone. What I expect is that the US will join Israel in an attack on Hizballah in Lebanon and then try to extend that war into Syria, possibly by allowing Israel to take out Syria’s air defenses, then joining Israel in attacking Hizballah units inside Syria and extending that to the SAA.

  11. “Israel seems to have lost interest in a ground invasion of Lebanon, for now”
    I don’t think so. Tillerson was just in Beirut attacking Hizballah as a “danger to Lebanon.”
    Tillerson says Hezbollah a danger to Lebanon
    I believe the goal now is for Israel to attack Hizballah in Lebanon, with US support, and then extend that war into Syria.
    Today I’ve read reports that Trump has allegedly given up the “bloody nose” attack on North Korea as not feasible. And since we know from threads here that the US doesn’t have enough troops to do a full-scale invasion, and that South Korea would bear the brunt of that – and clearly they’re not that interested – it would seem likely Trump will now turn his attention back to the Middle East. Which means Lebanon, Syria and eventually Iran.
    A war between Israel/US and Lebanon/Syria would be a nice distraction from Bibi’s legal woes and Trump’s continued domestic problems.

  12. Yeah, Right says:

    It is undeniable that the SAA is a much smaller force than the pre-war army.
    I’m curious about what the SAA will become once the war is finally over and all those refugees (presumably) return to Syria.
    Does Assad keep the SAA lean and mean? Or does he take advantage of that extra pool of manpower to grow the SAA back to its pre-war size, albeit now with a cadre of very experienced and battle-hardened officers and NCOs?
    Would such an expansion be one way for Assad to redirect the energies of his commanders?

  13. Henshaw says:

    PB- Thank you for your insightful analysis; and thanks to PL for hosting it.

  14. JPB says:

    Thanks PB – Good insight.
    I am curious as to your thoughts on the NDF. I have seen strength estimates of anywhere between 50K to 100K. I realize they are mostly just local militia protecting their village or district or tribe. But some appear to maneuver far from their homes right alongside SAA units. Would that be 5th Corps units or are they considered separately from the NDF?
    And I assume Assad pays and equips most of them. But at least one appears to be financed independently by an ex-patriot Alawi millionaire.
    Do you have a twitter account? If so I would like to follow it.

  15. Enrico Malatesta says:

    Many thanks for a great post, solid facts about the SAA leave me wishing for further postings about the status of other forces in Syria. I’m most curious about the supply lines, as SAA advances have made logistics more difficult for many of their adversaries.
    I am also curious about China, given that they would seem to have the same motivation as Russia for the Assad and the SAA to prevail.

  16. Nightsticker says:

    Very thoughtful. Do it often.
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  17. John_Frank says:

    Thank you for this post.
    In other news concerning Syria:
    Turkish army hit village in Syria’s Afrin with suspected gas: Kurdish YPG, Observatory
    There is local reporting and video:
    Suspected Turkish use of internationally prohibited chemical weapons against civilians in Erende, Shiye, Afrin.
    A doctor at Afrin’s Avrin Hospital says that the clothes of the victims will be tested to determine which weapons were used, after the victims are treated.
    In addition this video in which The director of Afrin Hospital Dr. Khalil Sabri confirmed the arrival of six casualties suffering suffocation due to the use of poisonous gases by the Turkish army, but the type of the gases has not been determined as of now. According to the doctor, the injured are suffering a serious itching on their skin, shedding tears in eyes, and throwing up and struggling with breathing
    How will the State Department and Ambassador Haley respond to this alleged chemical weapons attack?
    Will the OPCW investigate?

  18. John_Frank says:

    In other news concerning Syria, SOHR has posted a report (in Arabic) suggesting that the Chinese may be prepared to contribute troops as part of an agreement to help resolve the situation in eastern Ghouta
    (Personally I find it hard to believe that the Chinese Government would want to station troops in Syria, but with reports of Russian mercenaries fighting in eastern Syria and the North Koreans having supplied men and equipment to help the Syrian Arab Army, who knows.)

  19. John_Frank says:

    According to reports:
    #SAA’s Tiger Forces are moving towards Eastern Ghouta: a 4 Km long military convoy is on the way.
    @IvanSidorenko1, who has close ties with the Syrian Arab Army is confirming that the SAA Tiger Forces are moving towards Eastern Ghouta, posting numerous pictures on his time line. Links to a number of his posts follows for the reader’s benefit:
    (Yes, I am aware of the composition of the forces in Eastern Ghouta, and the claimed ties to various Islamist factions.)
    There are reported 270,000 civilians in Eastern Ghouta. It is supposed to be a de-escalation zone, although the Syrian Arab Republic reserved the right to go after forces they deemed to be terrorists. Hence the ongoing fighting. There is an existing humanitarian crisis with reports of many people suffering from severe malnutrition.
    With even more air attacks, along with heavy artillery, followed by a ground offensive, we will see even more civilian casualties.
    How will the UN and the international community respond to this new offensive?
    In that regard, follows is the press release from the latest UN SC meeting on Syria held on February 14:
    Civilians in Syria Killed on ‘Horrific Scale’, Conflict Spilling across Borders, Threatening Regional Stability, Special Envoy Warns Security Council
    Follows is a link to the full meeting record:
    Will we see claims of chemical weapons attacks? How will the US and France, who has also threatened to strike, respond?

  20. Don’t think oil and have much to do with it.

  21. US/Coalition airpower is superior in the ME, but Russian air defenses could change the equation to some extent.

  22. Golan won’t be on the table for a long time IMHO.

  23. Not sure about how to divide them, but there’s certainly room for situations in which one of these players might want to be less involved than others. Russians didn’t seem to mind Israeli air strikes that much for example.

  24. The SAA/SAG don’t want a confrontation with YPG, IMO. They want to drive a wedge between YPG and the US so as to break up that alliance a d force the Kurds to look for the regime’s protection against Turkish incursions. The Iranians have interests of their own, most important to them is to get US forces out of Northern Syria. The rest of the chaos, they probably think they can deal with.

  25. Jony Kanuck says:

    Patrick &,
    There is definitely a ‘balance of terror’ between Israel & Hizbollah; Hezbollah can rocket ‘all’ of Israel. Israel can ‘bomb Lebanon ‘back into the stoneage’, again. The IDF is not eager to do a ground operation in Lebanon with an impaired air arm. ‘Impaired’? If the Syrians can reproduce last weekend’s damage on the IAF, say 1 plane down, two damaged per 8 plane flight means no air force after one or two days operation. The IDF doesn’t know what to do about this, yet.
    Also, the Israeli Knesset is heading into a full blown crisis & deadlock. Bibi is a lame duck, any additional problems will take him down. Then there may be almost a civil war between the Ashkenazi & Mizrahi.

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Russia needs the Shia Crescent and the Shia Crescent needs Russia. I can foresee changes in that if NATO is dissolved and Russian Leaders are convinced that threats emanating from Islamdom are materially reduced.

  27. JPB says:

    John_F –
    This morning Afrin hospital, where the six are being treated, said the symptoms match symptoms of chlorine. Samples on their clothes are to be analyzed and announced tomorrow.
    All six are from a Shia district of Afrin.

  28. confusedponderer says:

    re: ‘Impaired’? If the Syrians can reproduce last weekend’s damage on the IAF, say 1 plane down, two damaged per 8 plane flight means no air force after one or two days operation. The IDF doesn’t know what to do about this, yet.
    I think they probably do know what they could do about it – if no better idea comes up – nuke them.
    But that has in itself a price, and given their untypical restraint they appear to understand that. It’s one thing kicking around palestinians, but killing another couple hundred thousand is in a different league.
    But then, the Israelis wouldn’t be entirely alone in such ideas, given that Trump wants the US to get a lot of more ‘small nukes’ (of a ‘small size’ one could actually use). And, of course, to deter Russia, no, to deter Putin, from … anything.
    Am I impressed? Well, not positively. When I was in the army at Koblenz as a ‘Funker’ I was told in NBC detect and decon training that the Warsaw Pact had aimed twenty or thirty nukes on the town – which would, beyond killing some 100.000 people, some of them even being soldiers, have also meant that they’d be re-glassing glass craters, and destroy a nice landscape.
    But then, they’d also have destroyed a corps HQ and about a division. When the US removed their chem ammo from Germany (Operation Steel Box) to Johnston Atoll I had readiness with my backpack kept ready for the case of an accident and/or emergency.
    Thank God that nothing happened and that the cold war stayed cold.

  29. Amir says:

    In response to Pacifica Advovate:
    An outlook, from Iranian point of view, can be found here:
    In Zarif’s words a change of strategy from formation of “blocks and alliances” to path of “security networking”, wold defuse the tensions in the region.
    He stated (10 min. mark), that one can solve the problems in the region by striving g for a “non-zero-game approach”. Apparently, he has been listening to Cl. P. Lang’s analysis of “Zero-sum approach” as the root cause of the Persian Gulf region conflicts.
    Obviously, if one is thinking of sowing division between the above mentioned parties, one has opted for the former strategy and is not striving for a solution but rather prolongation if the problem. Somehow, all those brownie parties involved, are not backward savages and recognize destructive rather than constructive intentions.
    I share Zarif’s opinion that, the best way to divide them is by stopping the invasion of the area and burying the hegemonic ambitions.
    On the subject of RuAF’s passivity against daily Israeli incursions, people assume that (and I paraphrase) Russia can and/or should do something about Israeli aggression: I can not possibly expand more on the reasoning behind Russian restraint against IDF, than the following article has:

  30. John_Frank says:

    On Sunday morning the Afrin Health Council held a press conference to discuss the alleged chemical weapons’ attack on Friday (Video – English subbed).
    In the meantime, an official with the White House reportedly said that he thinks it is extremely unlikely the Turks used chemical weapons. At the same the Turks are denying they carried out such an attack, claiming the Afrin Health Council is guilty of being involved in what they call “black propaganda.”
    Turkey has been accused of using chemcial weapons against the Kurds in the past:
    ‘Turks hit PKK with chemical weapons’
    The best way to sort this out? Have the OPCW conduct a fact finding mission, presumably at the request of the Syrian Arab Republic; and if it is determined a chemical weapon was used, for an independent body to then investigate the matter to assess responsibility.
    Unfortunately, as to the later, because of the Russian ‘uproar’ over the results of the OPCW – UNSC joint investigative mission report into the Sarin gas attack on April 4, 2017 it may be difficult to put together such an independent body under the auspices of the UNSC.
    Will the French do anything under their own effort to hold people accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria?
    Also, for their own reasons, as the Russians need the Turks onside to keep the Astana process alive.
    So, unless people kick up a huge fuss, it is quite possible this incident is swept under the rug.

  31. J says:

    What is troubling is the Russian use of Russian Mercs. Appears the SAA and the Mercs attacked US and US backed forces, and we’re repelled to the tune of 100 SAA and 300 Russian Mercs killed by US.

  32. turcopolier says:

    How about the FFL? Are you down on them as well? pl

  33. JPB says:

    Is there any truth to the BBC and Sputnik reports that Damascus is going to send troops into Afrin?

  34. J says:

    Mercs of any persuasion, are used and abused by various governments to hide the real number of their casualties in their wars, Syria sadly is no different, we do it in Iraq and Afghanistan, and both the Russians and our government are doing it in Syria.
    Mercenaries assume different names, but all fight under the same flag, the flag of m-o-n-e-y and their personal skins.
    Armies of nations fight for ideals, preservation of their homeland, their tribes, etc.. They don’t fight exclusively for money. Sure the armies of nations want to get paid, but that is not the reason they wear their uniform or tunic. In ancient times mercenaries were paid in what they could loot in their theater of war by their employer. They called it war trophies, their mercenaries reward/loot consisted of money, slaves, gold, silver, gems, etc..
    The Russian government is accountable for every Russian military personnel they loose in Syria, Dagestan, Chechnya, etc., the Russian populace demands accounting by their government. Which Moscow (like D.C.) gets very squirmy and cagey when confronted by their citizenry.
    While mercenaries who are employed by whatever government, their nation’s populations tend to ignore and look upon the mercs/private military contractors as mere cannon fodder, which is what the governments who employ them look at them as, cannon fodder to use and throw away.
    Which is why I find it troubling, and sad.

  35. JPB says:

    I heard five mercs KIA. Where did the 300 number come from?
    Also the Syrian KIA were militia, not SAA.

  36. Anna says:

    US control in southern Syria:
    “Inside the Al-Tanf zone, which the Americans unilaterally declared under their protection, and inside the refugee camp jihadists are regularly reported to recover strength. On several occasions they conducted raids from there into other territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. This zone must be shut down immediately…”
    — What would Bibi say? Is he going to give marching orders to the US? To replenish the jihadists’ units with ammunition and medicine?

  37. Barbara Ann says:

    There are many aspects of the Syrian War which one could find troubling and sad. The fate of persons who are there by choice purely for monetary reward would be pretty near the bottom of my list.

  38. TT says:

    Most likely China Tiger special force is already inside thou they denied after some news leaking in China. They need to fight Uyghur terrorists trained by Turkeys & US from returning to Xinjiang. Russia had eliminated a big group during its first SU25 downed by Turkey, when this Uyghur terrorists killed its pilot. This also serve as a real training from Russian, China need such precious integrated warfare knowledge that few countries have. Syria & Iran are part of Obor, China needs them to be stable & prosperous to work, which US is trying to sabotage. Lots of backstage plays.
    NK got nothing to do, they have enough problems for themselves and no need such war training. Assad has no $ to pay Kim. Talk about weapons, Russia has better supply than anyone, so why go that NK hassle for low grade weapons. China supply is likely, consider it announced previously that it had some pre-war weapon deals with Syria need to honored.

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