Low on manpower: Syrian Army Manpower

Published: July 27, 2015

Low on manpower: Syrian Army Manpower, In a striking admission, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said on Sunday that the country’s army faced a manpower shortage and had ceded some areas to insurgents in order to hold onto other regions deemed more important.

Mr. Assad also acknowledged in a speech televised from Damascus, the Syrian capital, that many Syrians could not watch the address because of the lack of electricity in many areas and noted the economic hardships that people are facing after more than four years of an increasingly complex civil war.

What was unusual was not the fact of the struggles that Mr. Assad mentioned, which have been obvious for some time, but his mentioning them at all. It was his most substantive public nod yet to the magnitude of the challenges to his government and of the struggles confronting ordinary Syrians. In previous public speeches and interviews, he has sometimes seemed at odds with reality, glossing over setbacks and denying that the government is dropping barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo, a well-documented and regular occurrence.

The remarks came within an address that, overall, retained Mr. Assad’s usual confident, defiant tone – promising victory, praising the army, blaming foreign meddling for the war.

But they also came amid other indications of strain on the army and at a time when even Mr. Assad’s loyalists are increasingly expressing frustration that their leaders have not eased or even acknowledged their plight. Some also grumble about the growing military role of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias, complaining that they are encroaching on Syrian sovereignty without producing victory.

On Saturday, Mr. Assad issued a general amnesty for Syrians who have avoided military duty or deserted the security forces – provided they have not joined the insurgency against him. He has issued amnesties in the past but has yet to release thousands of political prisoners, leaving many people mistrustful of this latest pledge.

Sunday’s speech also came as Hezbollah and Syrian troops are struggling to subdue the insurgent-held city of Zabadani. Their assault, which had been billed as quick and easy, has gone on for weeks, with many casualties on both sides and the opposition accusing the government of dropping hundreds of barrel bombs indiscriminately.

There has also been an intensifying campaign of army recruitment advertising in government-held areas, as even loyalist families grow more reluctant to send sons to the army rather than keep them home to defend their areas.

Mr. Assad’s acknowledgment of difficulties came amid a flurry of other developments that, taken together, have raised speculation about whether a new round of long-stalled peace talks, or at least the laying of groundwork for possible talks, could be taking place.

There have been whispers of a grand bargain being proposed that would unite Mr. Assad’s backers and opponents to fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has fed on the Syrian conflict and has come to be seen as a global threat. Blocking the way to any such deal is the deep divide over whether Mr. Assad will stay or go.

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