Syria’s Assad acknowledges strains of his army

Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad admits army withdrawal in areas to retrain others as Kurdish leader express readiness to join army

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has admitted to the shortage of manpower in the Syrian army in a televised speech to pro-government dignitaries in Damascus. Assad said the army is unable to defend the entire country while claiming that rebel groups have been receiving support from outside.   

"Sometimes, in some circumstances, we are forced to give up areas to move those forces to the areas that we want to hold onto," Assad said.

"We must define the important regions that the armed forces hold onto so it doesn't allow the collapse of the rest of the areas," he added.

On Saturday, the Syrian president granted a general amnesty for army defectors, state news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian army, which is fighting both ISIS and the armed opposition groups began a recruitment drive at the start of July.

In 2015, the Syrian army allied by pro-Assad Syrian militiamen lost control of the main stronghold city of Idlib in northwestern Syria in March and parts of the southern territories to the rebels as well as the ancient city of Palmyra to ISIS in May.  

Assad said the army retreated from some areas to be able to defend the key cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama and the coastal provinces.  

Other big cities such as Aleppo in the north and Derra in the south are areas of confrontation between the regime and rebel forces, but the rebels are making significant advances after fierce and continuous clashes.

In Kobani and parts of Al Hasakah province, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, also known as the PYD, took control of the areas backed by the US-led coalition airstrikes after regime forces retreated. The Syrian regime delivered those areas to the YPG, which is the armed wing of the PYD, with whom the regime is allegedly coordinating, an allegation the YPG has denied.

In an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, Kurdish PYD leader Salih Muslim denied any cooperation or military coordination with the Syrian regime.

However, he said the party is ready to join the Syrian army if they come back to the regions under PYD control with a changed mentality.

“The PYD will be part of the Syrian army if it changes its mentality and (returns) under new conditions, but not (if they return) with their Baathist (Party) and intelligence mentalities.”

“There will be no return to the past,” he said.

The YPG is seen as a Syrian affiliate of the PKK. Both aspire to create an independent nation for ethnic Kurds out of parts of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the EU, NATO, as well as Turkey.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 80,000 soldiers of the Syrian army and pro-Assad militiamen have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, making up more than a third of the war's total death toll of 230,000.

More than 70,000 young men have also dodged military service throughout the country, the SOHR said.

The deaths, defections, and difficulties in enlisting new recruits have more than halved the army's size since 2011, experts say.

TRTWorld and agencies