Friday, March 30, 2012
As the Free SyrianArmy moves towards guerrilla tactics, the Assad regime may not have what ittakes to ‘win hearts and minds’
Earlier this week, Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, made an unusual step of accepting Kofi Annan’s peace plan. This would provide two hours of ceasefire per day and humanitarian supply routes to the besieged cities of Homs and Hama. In case you might be confusing this with an actual step towards rapprochement between the Syrian leader and the opposition,violence has increased across the country as sniper attacks and assassinations become de rigueur. Syrian military forces for Assad are capitalizing on momentum won after fighting in Homs and pressing for advantage in this conflict, ceasefire be damned.
The Free Syrian Army seems to be setting in for the long haul, changing tactics to match those used in the Iraqi Insurgency. Car bombs,roadside IEDs, and assassinations are what characterizes the present Syrian resistance. Mr. Assad has managed to turn what had started as a peaceful revolution into a drawn out counterinsurgency campaign.
How can we expect this to play out? It’s doubtful Mr. Assad will try to copy Petraeus’ “WinningHearts and Minds” approach to COIN strategy. He lacks the popular support outside of the Christian and Allawite confessional groups. Years of systematic oppression of Sunni and Shi’a groups will have certainly alienated well over half of the population. Rather, by targeting civilians and combatants along sectarian lines and dealing with disillusioned soldiers, Assad may be attempting a more classic approach to COIN, something akin to the First Chechen war. As with the Chechen war, the opposition is gaining support in the form of soldiers and weapons. Foreign fighters, highly trained from hard fought experience in conducting an insurgency against the US, are streaming across Syria's border with Iraq. Al-Qaeda, hoping to get in on some of that hot, Arab Spring action, has provided both arms and troops for the opposition. All of this suggests that Assad is going to be forced to use an ever more brutal hand in dealing with the insurgency.
The success rate for these violent, repressive COIN strategies is even more dismal than for Petraeus’ warmer, fuzzier approach to counterinsurgency. Yet Assad’s toolbox for retaining power and halting insurgencies remains rather small, which is unfortunate for those who must suffer through the upcoming violence.