The civil war in Syria is far from over, unless, of course, there are any events that radically change the balance of forces and the nature of the fighting. Nevertheless, two years of armed confrontation allow us to sum up some preliminary results.
Of course, it would be incorrect to say that in Syria the Sunni majority is fighting with the Alawite minority. Most of the population generally tries to avoid participation in hostilities. However, it should be noted that it is the Alawites and the Shiites who make up the main base of the Assad regime. At the same time, many Sunnis support the rebels, although among the Arabs and among the Kurds of the Sunni religion there are supporters of Assad.
If we talk about the Syrian Arab army, the president, of course, first of all can count on elite formations, in the structure of which the Alawites predominate. (In the structure of “elite” units, the Alawite’s share is significant, but almost never “prevails.” - Ed.) They are equipped with the most modern equipment, well equipped and trained (we are talking about the Republican Guard, 4th tank divisions and regiments of commandos as part of special forces, 14th and 15th divisions). At the initial stage of the conflict, these formations played the role of a “fire brigade”, reinforcing the “territorial” divisions, which made it possible to achieve important successes, for example, significantly limiting the activity of rebels in Homs. However, doubting the loyalty of the capital’s population (the “population of the capital” does not pose a threat to the armed forces at all, the terrorist gangs pose a threat with the corresponding consequences for the capital. - Ed.), The authorities were afraid to use the “Alavite” divisions to defeat their opponents in remote regions . And although last summer the loyalists managed to repel an attack on the suburbs and outskirts of Damascus, the elite units have since practically not left the capital. As a result, government forces were never able to drive the rebels out of Aleppo. Moreover, even in the vicinity of the capital, the Assad regime is ready to devote only moderate forces to combat operations. In this sense, the battle for Deraia (more precisely, for its ruins) is very indicative. During a three-month assault, the loyalist forces could not establish control over this small town on the outskirts of Damascus, in the immediate vicinity of the Mezzeh air base.
So, the elite formations in the Syrian army are few, the rest of the army units and formations, as, indeed, the Alawite militia "Shabiha" ("Shabiha" - mean between the militia and the gang - a word meaning the most different militia self-defense units, which the government allowed to create not only Alawites, but also Christians, Shiites and even Sunnis, and who, as always in civil wars, to some extent “break away” from narrow self-defense tasks. “Shabih” is the subject of folklore widely fanned anti-Assad propaganda for intimidation and misinformation of people in Syria and abroad. - Ed.), can only perform passive tasks, such as the defense of populated areas, where the population loyal to the regime prevails, the protection of military bases, roadblocks, supply columns and strong points near the besieged cities.
Rate on tanks
Of course, the Syrian Arab army has significant reserves of heavy weapons. These are armored vehicles (tanks and infantry fighting vehicles), artillery (towed and self-propelled guns, OTRK, Soviet heavy mortars and large-caliber Iranian NAR) and aviation (helicopters and attack aircraft).
Before the outbreak of the civil war, the Syrians had more tanks and infantry fighting vehicles than many developed countries that significantly reduced the number of heavy weapons in the ranks and in reserve. In terms of the number of armored vehicles, the CAA even surpassed the armies of powerful third-world states, which are guided by the Soviet model of the armed forces.
Another important point: in the Syrian army, the ratio between the tank and motorized rifle battalions was approximately equal, unlike the armies of the western type, in which the motorized rifle battalions are substantially larger than the tank. And this turned out to be in the hands of the Baath regime. After all, even the oldest model T-55 without dynamic protection is much more resistant to firing by the rebels than the BMP-1 / 2. Especially if we are talking about large-caliber machine guns, LSD, MPA and shrapnel of artillery shells and mines. And tanks, equipped with dynamic protection, can withstand a hit from obsolete grenade launchers and recoilless guns of the rebels.
During the conflict, the Syrian army used armored vehicles without direct cover from the infantry. After all, when interacting with soldiers, the speed of armored vehicles drops to several kilometers per hour, which makes it extremely vulnerable to enemy anti-tank weapons. And the Syrians bet on the speed and firepower of compact armored groups can be considered quite logical. (For the same Deraye, the actions of tankers are highly appreciated by our respective professionals. - Ed.)
Much more questions are the practice of the CAA to create temporary roadblocks, which are usually guarded by several tanks. They have been without movement for a long time and turn into "sitting ducks", allowing the rebels to choose a comfortable position for their defeat. And if in the absence of hidden approaches to tanks such tactics can still be justified, then in settlements or surrounded by gardens it should be considered erroneous. (Just such a roadblock with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, to which we are accustomed to in Russia, in settlements almost none. - Ed.)
During the civil war, the total losses of CAA armored vehicles are quite substantial (based on an analysis of the available photo and video materials, they are estimated at almost 800 units, and tanks and BMPs are roughly in terms of 40%). Availability of repair facilities and the supply of spare parts from Russia and Iran could reduce the severity of the problem. True, the remaining fleet of armored vehicles will allow the loyalists to continue fighting for a long time, especially considering that now we are talking about the retention of key points, and not control over the entire territory of the country.
By the beginning of the civil war, the CAA had numerous air forces with an extensive attack and helicopter fleet. The disadvantages of Syrian aviation were: the presence of a large number of obsolete and worn-out aircraft, the lack of high-precision weapons and their carriers, and insufficient crew intake in the pre-war period. Nevertheless, given the weakness of the rebel air defense, aviation had a serious impact on the course of hostilities.
The total number of downed air defense aircraft is small: about 20 units (first of all, Mi-8 helicopters involved in supplying the Syrian garrisons). Several helicopters were captured by rebels as a result of an attack on the Marj as-Sultan airbases near Damascus and Afis (Taftanaz) in the vicinity of Idlib. After a months-long siege of Minah base (Meng), which is located northwest of Aleppo, the Syrian air force most likely also lost a significant part of its fleet. After all, the base was fired from X-NUMX-mm M-130 guns, and helicopters, unlike reactive combat aircraft, which can be protected by reinforced concrete shelters, are forced to be positioned openly and therefore more vulnerable because of the large length of the blades of the main rotors.
The sharp decline in the Mi-8 fleet is now one of the most acute problems for the CAA. And it can be solved only by adjusting the supply of spare parts for faulty machines, and even better, new helicopters from Russia and Iran. The Syrian Air Force also faces personnel problems. After all, if you look at the list of the dead pilots, most of them carried the rank of colonel. This is explained by the insufficient level of training of young pilots who are not able to operate the machine in the same way as senior officers.
We now turn to the rebel groups. This is the secular Free Syrian Army (SSA), the core of which consisted of deserters from the ranks of government troops (primarily Sunnis) and the formation of Islamists (including Jabhat al-Nusra - Front Al-Nusra). At the first stage of the civil war, the SSA played a leading role in resisting the regime, however, after it suffered a series of defeats, Islamists began to come to the fore, who are distinguished by their moral stability and high professional level. After all, in their ranks, foreign legionnaires who have gained real combat experience during the rebel war in Iraq and Libya are fighting. The tactics of the armed Syrian opposition largely reproduce the classic guerrilla insurgent tactics: the fighting is gradually spreading to new areas. (The so-called secular SSA is an empty shell filled with jihad warriors recruited around the world. According to Deraye, this is about 65%. As for small sabotage and terrorist groups, the percentage of foreigners is even greater. In this connection, the name Rebels sounds pretty ridiculous. - Ed.)
As in many modern conflicts, in the Syrian civil war, refugee camps in the territory of neighboring countries have become an important source of manpower for the rebels. The presence of such camps makes it possible not only to recruit supporters safely, but also to give them certain military skills. The host states are opposed to the Assad regime, and it is not surprising that information about the training of insurgents in Turkey and Jordan periodically appears, including with the help of foreign instructors. (In many armed conflicts of the 20th – 20th centuries, especially in Africa, refugee camps in the territory of neighboring states became real reserves for the armed opposition, which acquired the necessary knowledge and skills in them).
Course of the fighting
What happened in Syria in the last two years can be compared with the development of a cancerous tumor. At the first stage, the population entered mass protests impressed by the events of the “Arab Spring”: a benign tumor appeared. However, the severe forceful suppression of these actions led to an armed confrontation: a benign tumor degenerated into a malignant one.
Initially, armed clashes occurred rarely and were localized in nature: the disease was in the first stage. At this stage, the number of militants was small, and their level of training and armament was low. Syria’s immune system managed to eliminate a number of hotbeds of resistance, reduce and localize the remaining ones. But where resistance was not suppressed, metastases grew, spreading to nearby settlements, especially in areas difficult for the Syrian army. The rebels began to seize small checkpoints and bases of the Syrian army: the disease passed into the second stage, when cancer cells penetrate into the lymph nodes.
(The level of resistance and the transition to the second stage are directly connected with the ousting of the “Syrian rebels” proper by well-trained foreign professionals. Human and financial resources, the replenishment of which is practically inexhaustible. - Ed.)
In the refugee camps, Syrian fighters replenished their ranks with foreign personnel, organized, armed themselves and began to penetrate into Syria. To prevent this, the Syrian immune system could not. As a result, tumor cells began to spread in the new territories, mainly border, spraying the forces of the Syrian military, police and Alawite militia and forming local metastases. The disease has passed into the third stage. As the immune system was depleted due to combat losses and the wear and tear, metastases began to appear in vital organs that were distant from the original foci of the disease. The beginning of the fourth stage can be considered the summer offensive of militants in Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities of Syria. Although the authorities initially suppressed resistance in the capital, the militants managed to gain a foothold in the suburbs, which six months later led to permanent battles on the outskirts of Damascus and their spread to the city limits. In Aleppo, militants took control of about half the city. Emerging metastases began to expand into the surrounding areas (suburbs, satellite towns, surrounding villages), increasing the size of each new tumor focus. A striking example was the rapid seizure until recently of the calm and seemingly pro-Assad al-Raqqi in early March 2013.
If the NATO countries now decide on military intervention, the Assad regime is unlikely to be able to stay in power. Moreover, according to military experts, the alliance may be limited to rocket and air strikes. Indeed, despite the fact that Syria was able to preserve its most modern air defense missile systems (“Buk” and “Armor”) and fighter aircraft, their effectiveness raises great doubts, given the fact that the rebels besieged a number of airbases and blocked communications. In a number of regions in the north and east of the country, and partly in the west, the use of modern mobile air defense systems, not to mention the old stationary, is almost impossible. As for the Ministry of Defense, the MANPADS and the short-range air defense missile systems, the experience of the NATO air campaigns allows us to conclude that alliance aircraft rarely descend into their zone of destruction. As for the Syrian fighter aircraft, it is relatively small in number. In addition, its use is difficult due to the loss of a number of radar stations and the violation of the integrity of the radar field over Syria. It should also be understood that if NATO launches an air war, rebels with a double force will besiege the airbases and destroy the air defense of the government army. Alliance actions can lead to the rapid fall of a number of Syrian garrisons in the north and east of the country, which will be completely cut off from supplies. The balance of power will change dramatically, the Syrian army will practically be deprived of the opportunity to use heavy weapons under the rule of NATO in the air. As a result, demoralized loyalists will be forced to surrender Damascus to the rebels. (There is no doubt about the potential for NATO to crush Syria from the air. However, the initial phase of such an operation is associated with inevitable and noticeable losses. The only country (except m. B. Turkey) ready to bear such losses is the United States. At present, there are reasonable doubts in their desire to take on such operations. - Ed.)