1. Is the Syrian Army Falling Apart?

    February 8, 2009

    There are indications that the Syrian military’s command-and-control system is showing signs of strain and confusion as the regime of Bashar al-Assad desperately tries to cope with the rapidly escalating pace of the armed insurrection throughout the country. Sources report that intercepted communications reveal that the 220,000-man Syrian army is experiencing increased difficulty coordinating its efforts to crush militant fighters in several cities in the northern part of the country, with the radio traffic indicating confusion up and down the chain of command.

    President Assad is keeping most of his two best equipped and most loyal units, the Republican Guard Division, commanded by his brother, Maher al-Assad„ and the 4th Armored Division, both manned by loyal Alawite tribesmen, deployed in and around Damascus to protect his regime. However, in recent weeks large portions of the 4th Armored Division have been used as a “fire brigade” to try to tamp down the growing rebellion at Zabadani in western Syria and in Homs in the northern part of the country.

    In the western part of the country near the Lebanese border, the Syrian II Corps has been struggling for two months to maintain a foothold in to the vital city of Zabadni, which has been a hotbed of revolt for the past eleven months. Press reports, which cannot be independently confirmed, indicate that the city has been almost entirely in the hands of rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces since January 2012.

    The sense of chaos is most apparent in northern Syrian, where the Syrian III Corps, whose headquarters is in the city of Aleppo, is struggling to quell armed uprisings in and around the cities of Homs, Idlib and Hamah. Since the Arab League observer mission departed Syria two weeks ago, the Syrian military has rushed reinforcements, including large numbers of tanks and armored personnel carriers, to northern Syria. Sources report that at elements of two divisions and a number of special forces regiments have recently been moved to northern Syria from positions facing the Israeli military on the Golan Heights, as well as elements of two elite armored divisions normally based around Damascus - the 1st Armored Division at al-Kiswah, south of Damascus, and the 3rd Armored Division whose headquarters is at al-Qutayfah, 25 miles northeast of the Syrian capital. Also now reported in the region are elements of the elite 14th Airborne Division and a number of independent commando brigades. These troop movements suggest that the Syrian high command believed that its forces in northern Syria were incapable of suppressing the rebellion in that part of the country.

    Curiously, the Syrian air force has been unusually quiet in recent weeks. Training flights and other normal peacetime flight activities have been reduced dramatically. There are, however, no immediate indications that the regime of Bashar al-Assad intends to use the air force to bombard those cities partly held by the insurgents.

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