Middle East

Losses for Syrian regime rise sharply

Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they walk towards their positions in the town of Morek in Hama province July 21, 2014. REUTERS/Badi Khlif

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces and allied groups have suffered more than 800 casualties in the last week, a leading anti-regime activist group said Wednesday, amid signs of a “significant” lack of manpower.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 1,769 people lost their lives in the one-week period following President Bashar Assad’s inauguration for a third term July 16.

The Observatory says it relies on a network of sources inside the country for its figures; other Syria-based activists usually focus on civilian casualties, while their figures generally agree with the Observatory’s.

The Observatory divided the 1,769 fatalities into separate categories: regime forces and paramilitaries (803), rebel militia fighters (349), civilians (239), Al-Qaeda groups and Kurdish fighters in clashes with each other (75), Al-Qaeda and other non-Syrian Islamist groups fighting the regime (290), and non-Syrian Shiite paramilitaries (13), who fight alongside the regime.

The Observatory said the jump in casualties represented the highest rate of losses for the regime and its allies since the beginning of the popular uprising in March 2011.

While the claim is difficult to confirm, as the regime remains tight-lipped about its battlefield losses, an anti-regime source told The Daily Star that the conclusions appeared solid, particularly after several hundred troops and paramilitaries were killed when ISIS militants overran the Shaar gas field in Homs province last week.

“In general, there are six fronts that have seen significant losses for the regime,” said the source, who follows military developments as an independent observer.

“These have come in western rural Deraa, the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus, the Mliha front [a suburb of Damascus], the Shaar gas field, the Qalamoun mountains and northwestern Hama,” the source said.

The Observatory added that the rise in casualties came after Assad, during his inauguration address, pledged to liberate rebel and jihadist-held areas of the country such as Raqqa and Aleppo, although the regime has yet to report major progress on these fronts.

The regime is also believed to be suffering from the departure of thousands of Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries, who have returned home in the face of an ISIS-led insurgency.

The regime has now begun to call up “thousands” to serve in the army reserve, the Observatory added. It said in the city of Tartous, Military Police have told thousands who have completed compulsory military service to present themselves for reserve duty, “which indicates a large shortfall in regime [military] personnel.”

The source said “the efforts to bring in people who’ve dodged their military service haven’t let up of late,” with many of them being sent to the National Defense Forces, a paramilitary group, to the detriment of the regular army.

“The NDF has been growing at a rapid pace,” the source said. “The army, in contrast, has experienced attrition in its ranks, especially after NDF commanders have refused to support the army in many areas, most recently in the Shaar gas field battles.”

“In the last two weeks, there has been heightened pressure to bring in new reserve troops,” he said.

Although media reports have focused on the sweeping gains by ISIS in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks, Syrian rebel groups remain active – and in some cases confident – of their ability to hang on against both the regime and the militants from ISIS, even though they are outmanned and outgunned in most cases.

Regime forces and paramilitaries have been trying for weeks to retake the town of Morek in Hama, and suffered an unknown number of casualties Wednesday when rebels targeted their positions, the Observatory said.

Fighting also continued in Jobar on the eastern edge of the capital, with six airstrikes targeting the area while regime forces discovered several tunnels dug by rebels in the area, the Observatory said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2014, on page 8.




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