Former ambassador Robert S. Ford writes: Don’t believe everything you read in the media: The moderate rebels of Syria are not finished. They have gained ground in different parts of the country and have broken publicly with both the al Qaeda affiliate operating there, as well as with the jihadists of the Islamic State. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is showing new signs of weakness.
The death of moderate armed opposition elements has been greatly exaggerated. These groups — whom I define as fighters who are not seeking to impose an Islamic state, but rather leaving that to a popular decision after the war ends — have recently gained ground in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, and have nearly surrounded the provincial capital. If the rebels are ever to demonstrate military capacity, it should be in Idlib, where the supply lines from Turkey are easily accessible.
Their advances over the past month also extend beyond Idlib. Notably, moderate armed groups repelled regime attacks in the vicinity of the town of Mourek, in west-central Hama province, and also advanced on the Hamidiyah airbase there. They even damaged aircraft at the airbase, with some reports claiming that they used surface-to-air missiles.
Moreover, they launched renewed rebel incursions into Damascus from the nearby eastern suburb of Jobar on July 25 and 26. The regime reportedly even had to re-route Damascus city buses. These incursions follow the successful operations by the Army of Islam, led by an ambitious Islamist commander named Zahran Alloush, who declared war on the Islamic State and expelled it entirely from Damascus’s eastern suburbs after bloody fighting earlier in the month. Rebels in Aleppo have also begun an operation to cut off the regime’s supplies from the south, so their situation in the northern city is not hopeless.
For the regime, the last three weeks have been particularly painful. The most frequently cited source for casualty figures, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, put regime dead at more than 1,000; the figures provided by the armed opposition were more than double that number. Casualties at this rate are not sustainable for the minority-backed regime, and indeed there were reports of new Alawite grumbling about the growing toll. [Continue reading…]