Syrian regime forces 'lost stomach to retake Idlib'

Syrian regime forces 'lost stomach to retake Idlib'
Analysis: The regime's attempt to recapture Idlib was hit by attrition and poor morale among its men, with many militias refusing to fight, says Anas al-Kurdi.
5 min read
16 April, 2015
Rebels said they ambushed reinforcements sent from Hama [AFP]

The Syrian regime has not put up any resistance worth mentioning in response to the loss of the centre of Idlib city to Jaish al-Fath, a union of the largest opposition factions operating in the countryside of Idlib.

The regime's control depended on military checkpoints manned by militias loyal to it, such as the shabbiha (pro-regime armed militias) and the National Defense forces.

The regime has intentionally neglected the countryside during the civil war, and massed its troops in urban areas.

The aim is to maintain the legitimacy of its presence before the international community and because the city is a vital centre, a transport hub, and a road securing supply routes.

The regime also enjoys a broader base of public support in urban areas. Moreover, keeping the cities under control could be easier than maintaining control over vast non-strategic areas of the countryside.

However, the city of Idlib has special status, serving as a link between Aleppo and Latakia and between Aleppo and Homs. The city also separates regime-controlled areas in the governorate, including Kafriya and al-Fuah, two villages loyal to the regime, as well as al-Mastoumah, Ariha, and Jisr al-Shughur.

According to the plans of the Syrian opposition, Idlib would be a driving force behind a major operation in the Syrian coast if the opposition so desires.

Except for the city of Raqqa, the Syrian regime has not lost any urban area worth mentioning since that time. The regime did not attach much importance to Raqqa, which the Islamic State group has controlled for two years ago.

     The regime has intentionally neglected the countryside during the civil war, and massed its troops in urban areas.

The regime even pursued the "scorched earth" policy when the revolutionaries attempted to enter the city of Hama months ago, destroying infrastructure to prevent rebels advancing toward the military airport and from there to the city.

Strikingly, it was Jaish al-Fath that decided to start the battle for control over the city of Idlib, and it decided to stop it in order to draw up new plans and create more understandings and coordination within the unified opposition to complete the attack.

Mastoumah and its "Vanguards Camp" are considered the most prominent barracks and largest camp that are still under the regime's control. It is garrisoned by more than 30 tanks and about 400 soldiers.

Karmid camp, less than 5km east of Mastoumah, is considered the most important artillery centre for the Syrian regime's forces in the north of the country. Its forces can shell anything within a radius of 30km.

The regime is also facing battles on various fronts, including Nasib and Busra al-Sham in Daraa, Darayya and the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in the Damascus countryside, and Aleppo, where what was left of the Air Intelligence building was demolished.

Confused response

It has put the regime on the defensive, and although it sent reinforcements to Idlib, the operation was confused and it was unable to support its supply routes.

Saif al-Din, an activist in Hama, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that "columns of the regime's shabbiha forces left Hama for the Idlib areas along the northern Ghab road after being mobilised and assembled in more than one point in Hama and its countryside."

Yazan Shahdawi, director of the Hama Media Centre activist group, said: "Most of those who came out to fight alongside the regime to reclaim Idlib were in a state of fear and confusion and were not happy with the regime's commanders.

"They were even extremely frank when they said that they would not stay in the northern Syrian region and would not fight for more than six days at most."

Shahdawi was citing field sources from inside pro-regime villages in the Hama countryside, from which the regime withdrew a large number of popular committees and National Defence Forces to fight in Idlib.

     Numerous groups refused to fight alongside the regime following arguments and disputes with the security commanders.
Yazan Shahdawi, Hama activist

Shahdawi added: "Numerous groups refused to fight alongside the regime following arguments and disputes with the security commanders. More than 200 men refused to fight alongside the Assad regime's ranks. They said they wanted to protect their homes in Hama."

The chief editor of Hama al-Yawm newspaper, Zeid al-Omar, pointed out that "these developments concerning those loyal to the Syrian regime are stirring massive chaos and accusations of treason against the security commanders in Hama."

This is "especially true since the regime's commanders in the capital held Colonel Suheil al-Hassan, nicknamed al-Nimer (Tiger), responsible for the security chaos the pro-regime areas in Hama are experiencing and for the crumbling of fronts in Idlib", he added.

Omar told al-Araby that "the security commanders in Damascus accused the security commanders in Hama of abandoning the battlefronts.

A commander in the rebel forces, Abu al-Abed al-Hamwi, told al-Araby that many of the reinforcements were ambused as they travelled from Hama to Idblib.

The field commander said that they "managed to record phone calls in which regime soldiers talk about their situation and morale, saying they will not take part in losing battles."

"Besides, the regime is in a big dilemma concerning the city of Idlib because of the difficulty to recruit shabbiha and new forces to fight on its side following the huge losses the regular forces of the regime suffered in Idlib and its countryside."

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.