I am no military or strategic analyst, but what follows are mere curious speculations of a person who has been living this war and watching its details closely for 6 years by now.
Lebanon 1982 against the Israelis, was the last time the Syrian Army pursued its task of fighting enemies, and since that confrontation no improvement or development of any kind occurred to its structure, it remained as a symbol that was not taken care of as it should have been. When the conflict started in 2011, no one was prepared for it, even the Army was unprepared and unexperienced, there were too many casualties caused by strategic and tactical mistakes in its lines, and all expectations were that it would collapse in no time, but here it is 6 years later still standing.
At the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011, the control of the government was so strong and tight, as things were still ‘local’ so to speak. As foreign fighters from at least 81 countries started to flow into Syria and groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups started to formulate, things got more complicated and too many fronts opened; strength of the Army was distracted leading to the loss of more territory gradually. Looking at maps of control areas in 2012 and 2014 clearly shows how much land went out of government control.
April of 2013, ISIS was formed and established its capital at the heart of Syrian territory in Ar-Raqqa. By then there were too many terrorist brigades, armies, and militias fighting against the Syrian Army across Syria, not to mention that weapons, and financial support did not stop to be delivered to terrorists of those groups along with ISIS through supply lines coming from Turkey and US airdrops with the full cover and support of international community.
Nonetheless, the Army was not on its own; guerrilla warfare has developed over the past 6 years in Syria and played a significant role assisting the Army in its war against terrorism, alongside the alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, those forces together made huge achievements over those years keeping majority of population (approximately 16 million) protected from terrorist groups. The vast presence of the Syrian army in cities worked as a strength point to maintain control of the government over most populated areas. However, its strategy in battles has not proven so perfect as the loss of territory to armed opposition, Al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS has increased after 2012.
The main strategy basically adopted was to gather manpower and focus attention on one front then make an advancement, and as soon as the goal is liberated a new aim is set on a different geographic spot, leaving the liberated area in a bottleneck risking at times the loss of that recaptured area, or giving time for terrorists to advance on another front.
October 2015, events took a different turn as Russia entered the conflict under the request of the Syrian Government. By that time, the Syrian Army had been fighting for 4 years nonstop, people were burdened and the Army was exhausted and had already suffered catastrophic casualties. As a new stage of the Syrian war took place and as power balances shifted, the Syrian Amy got the chance to take a breath and have time to recharge its power and improve its strategies using the Russian military experience and support after it was exhausted from too many open fronts and the increase in the numbers of foreign fighters and the support given to them by Gulf countries Turkey, NATO, EU, and USA.
During 2016 the cooperation between the Syrian army and its allies, the Russian Airforce on the top, accelerated the speed of restoring control to key areas like Palmyra, Aleppo, Latakia Rural, Deraa, Damascus Rural etc. Liberating Palmyra in March 2016 was the beginning of a successive of massive military victories on the ground against terrorist groups, but just when everyone thought things were getting better, came the strike from bottleneck that was left behind as battle moved from Palmyra to Aleppo. Gaps and discoordination led to the loss of Palmyra in an overnight right at the time we were celebrating the liberation of Aleppo from terrorist control. At the very same time clashes broke out in Dier Ezzour, and Turkish invasion of the Syrian territory escalated under the pretext of “fighting ISIS”. And here question marks arose as it was hard for people to understand why would we lose Palmyra only 7 months after its historic liberation, or why as we look at control area maps we always see that liberated areas are left in the bottleneck.
This might be a naïve question, but I could not help thinking of it when I received an email with what is claimed to be a ‘new strategy’ developed by the Syrian Army on the ground. Spreading unconfirmed facts is not what I am after here, this is just a hypothesis of what would things be like if this claimed strategy is true. According to this email, the Army now is rearranging its forces together with air force cover in order to create one united frontline instead of scattered fronts that operate over different periods of time. This anonymous who has sent me the map explains how the unified frontline works like a scanner that leaves behind no gaps which might lead to loss of new territory or which might put the Army in the corner. Accordingly, the areas marked with an (X) are the ones to be cleared out before the unified front pursues its progress to clean the rest of Syrian territory from terrorist activity.
I do not take things like this for granted, but at such time when it is hard to tell whether this ‘new strategy’ is true or not it would do us no harm to contemplate for a second and ask: “what if this was true?”
Imagine that liberated areas would be terrorism-free once and for all, and that we would not have to worry about a setback like what has happened in Palmyra. Blaming the loss of Palmyra on the coalition, which we never trusted in the first place, means we are avoiding the truth that there needs to be better coordination among the paramilitary forces and the military along with the allies.
It is mere curiosity that leads me to think of this idea and or least try imagine it. I contacted many people in conflict areas, the one answer I got from everyone was “we hope this is true”. Regardless of the fact whether this is true or not, one fact remains unquestioned and untouched, and that is our trust and belief in our Army, the Army that everyone bet on its collapse 6 years ago, but it still held itself strong defending the dignity and sovereignty of Syria and the Syrian people.