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Saturday, May 2, 2015

What can we expect if Bashir al-Assad is forced to abandon Damascus?

Links: A. Assad forces losing more ground in Syria.
           B. Assad's weaknesses being exploited.

Everyday the headlines bring news of more territory lost to pro-government forces, as the hodge-podge of various anti-Assad groups push closer and closer to Damascus. In recent weeks, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), a well-organized group that many identify as Al-Qaeda's proxy in the Syrian conflict, has taken the lead, and delivered a string of defeats to the regular Syrian Army near the northwest town of Idlib.  Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo, which is just north of Idlib, presently is not controlled by either side.  Within the last year, regime forces have suffered losses in every corner of the country.  The Iraqi border area is controlled by the Islamic State, while the northeast border with Turkey appears to be under mostly Kurdish control.  The Jordanian border area in the southwest has seen a successful push by Jabhat al-Nusrah as of late, with the regime no longer able to claim control of any of the towns.

Although I have argued on numerous occasions that the IS, JN, and the Khorosan group were basically separate digits connected to the same hand, the hand of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda.  I have always based my opinion on the strong historic links between all the groups and Al-Qaeda, and the usefulness of having the enemy imagine ten separate opponents on the battlefield as opposed to one.  In truth, I'm sure these groups do have certain issues of ideology or ceremony that aren't the same, but at the end of the day, they share they same basic goal: creating an Islamic Extremist state in Syria (and the entire Levant, for that matter).  Interestingly enough, now that the Kurds have solidified their defensive positions in the north eastern border region, all of these groups can focus exclusively on regime military targets.  I would imagine that if they truly were opposed to each other, then we would eventually see some sign of conflict; it's human nature.  Even the nebulous "Free Syrian Army", equipped and trained by the United States, appears to be focused on Syrian military units.  In a nutshell, Its all against one.

If the regime is unable to respond effectively, what can be expected?  Right now, Assad's control basically is limited to everything west of the Anti-Lebanon Mountain Range, which includes the entire Mediterranean coast, and the area around Damascus, although the Yarmouk refugee camp just outside Damascus has apparently been co-opted by the IS.  As difficult as it is to imagine, Assad controls roughly one-eighth of Syria, the enemy is collecting at the gates.  No doubt, when it becomes necessary, Assad and his family will be able to find asylum in Iran, Oman, or some friendly country, and plenty of money has been squirrelled away in various banks to keep him and his henchmen living comfortably for the remainder of their days.  The question is, will Assad recognize the moment, when the time has come to abandon ship?  He has shown a great deal of determination in the past, and he has stayed in Damascus when many others would have left. 

Who picks up the pieces?  Will it be Jabhat al-Nusrah?  Or possibly Al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State?  Don't put your hopes on the Free Syrian Army.  As soon as the U.S. money goes away, these guys will disappear into the hills.  I believe that the Islamic State will take charge, and the experts will begin to consider that maybe these groups weren't so far apart after all.  While the IS solidifies its position, maybe Angela Merkel and President Obama and convene a summit to enact sanctions. One thing is certain; whatever military resources that will be made available because of the end of hostilities in Syria, will quickly make their way to the battlefields of Iraq.  

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