C.J. Chivers reports: With diplomatic efforts dead and the future of Syria playing out on the battlefield, many of the Syrian government’s most powerful weapons, including helicopter gunships, fighter jets and tanks, are looking less potent and in some cases like a liability for the military of President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebels have turned part of Mr. Assad’s formidable arsenal on his own troops. Anti-Assad fighters on Wednesday shelled a military airport in the contested city of Aleppo with captured weapons. On Tuesday, rebels used commandeered Syrian Army tanks in a skirmish with Mr. Assad’s troops.
Perhaps even more worrying to Mr. Assad, his military has come to rely more heavily on equipment designed for a major battle with a foreign enemy, namely Israel, rather than a protracted civil conflict with his own people. Close observers of his military say Syria is having trouble keeping its sophisticated and maintenance-intensive weapons functioning.
The strain is likely to grow more acute as the government depends on helicopter gunships to extend its reach to parts of the country rendered impassable to logistics convoys and even armored vehicles by the rebels’ improvised bombs.
Analysts said Syria’s fleet of Mi-25 Hind-D attack helicopters, which numbered 36 at the start of the conflict, is insufficient to hold back rebels as the number of fronts, from Aleppo and Idlib in the north to the suburbs of Damascus in the south and Hama and Homs in the center of the country, continues to proliferate.
Maintenance technicians are struggling to keep the machines aloft in an intense campaign and in the searing heat and sand associated with summer desert war. Estimates are that only half his fleet can be used at a given time, with some helicopters cannibalized for spare parts and Mr. Assad dependent on supplies from Russia.
“This army is going to start breaking,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst now studying Syria for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Not the whole thing at once, but pieces of it will break.” [Continue reading…]