The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad appears ready to “accept de facto partition” of Syria, a move that would leave most of the country in the hands of rebels and jihadists, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports, quoting experts and diplomats.
Assad’s shift to a defensive posture, and his apparent willingness to break up Syria, may be attributed to the “dwindling forces available to the regime,” notes AFP.
The Daily Star reports that Iran has recently deployed a 15,000-strong militia made of Iranians, Iraqis, and Afghans into Syria in an effort to reverse the recent setbacks suffered by the Syrian military.
Under a divided Syria, Syria’s government plans to devote its military resources to defending the strategically important territory and core area under its control.
Some analysts believe that Syria’s defensive posture is being pushed at the behest of Iran.
“Iran urged Syrian authorities to face facts and change strategy by protecting only strategic zones,” Syrian opposition figure Haytham Manna told AFP.
The only offensive the Assad regime is currently participating in is taking place at Qalamun along the Syria-Lebanon border. However, even there, Iran’s proxy and Assad ally Hezbollah is leading the fight.
“The Syrian army today has become a Praetorian guard that is charged with protecting the regime,” an unnamed diplomat who visits Damascus regularly told AFP.
Although their current predicament has left Syrian officials “worried,” the diplomat said they remain confident that key regime allies Russia and Iran will not allow the Assad regime to be overthrown.
Aram Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank known as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP that Syria’s once 300,000-strong army has “whittled away” by combat and attrition.
Syria’s military manpower is estimated to stand at 175,000, comprised of men from the army, pro-regime Syrian militias, and foreign fighters, including members of Hezbollah and other groups, reports AFP.
Of the 220,000 people killed in Syria’s war, 68,000 were identified members of the regime troops, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict using a network of sources on the ground.
“Militarily, the regime probably still has the means to hold the southeastern half of the country long-term, but further losses could weaken it from within,” Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at the University of Edinburgh, told AFP.
The U.K.-based Observatory pointed out that since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, Assad has lost more than three-quarters of Syria to his opponents, which include the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al Nusra Front.
Nevertheless, French geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche told AFP that 50 to 60 percent of Syrians live in the territory that Assad controls, adding that 10-15 percent of the country’s population resides in areas controlled by ISIS, 20-25 percent in territory under Nusra Front or rebel groups, and another 10 percent is controlled by Kurdish security troops.
“The government in Damascus still has an army and the support of a part of the population,” noted Balanche.
“We’re heading towards an informal partition with front lines that could shift further,” he added.