83 percent; that’s how much territory the Syrian government has lost control of since the country’s civil war began more than four years ago, according to a new analysis by HIS Janes’s. Territory fully controlled by President Assad’s forces has shrunk by 18% between 1 January and 10 August 2015 to 29,797 square kilometers, roughly a sixth of the country, according to latest data produced by HIS Conflict Monitor.
Assad appears to concentrate his efforts on holding key strategic areas with large populations including Damascus, the Alawi coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, and the city of Homs, on the corridor connecting Damascus to the Latakia coast. HIS Jane’s observes that these are the areas likely to be defended, even at the expense of losing other major cities like Aleppo and Daraa.
On military manpower, the report says that the Syrian Army is believed to have lost around 50% of its prewar strength of 300,000, with manpower shortages creating a serious challenge to the government’s war effort. Many of the remaining soldiers are very young Alawi conscripts, sent to the front lines with minimal training and low morale. (HIS Jan’s, 23 August)
Under the circumstances, major military operations are apparently being led by the Quds Force-backed foreign Shia militias, especially the Lebanese Hezbollah, with the Syrian army on support role.