“As Syria’s Revolution Sputters, a Chaotic Stalemate”
The New York Times, December 28, 2014, p.A5
“It was a victory that President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents had dreamed of: Insurgents seized a key army base in northern Syria after more than a year of trying. But the mood in this Turkish border town, flooded with Syrians who have fled both government bombings and extremist insurgents, was more bitter than celebratory. The assault this month was led by the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s arm in Syria, which claimed the spoils. By contrast, many of the first Syrians to rise up against Mr. Assad in 2011 — civilian demonstrators and army defectors alike — followed the battle from the sidelines here, unable to enter Syria under threat of death from the extremists of Nusra and its rival group, the Islamic State. As Syria’s war heads toward its fourth year, the complex battleground is increasingly divided between the government and the extremists, leaving many Syrians feeling that the revolution on which they gambled their lives and livelihoods has failed. … In northern and eastern Syria, where Mr. Assad’s opponents won early victories and once dreamed of building self-government, the nationalist rebel groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army are forced to operate under the extremists’ umbrellas, to go underground or to flee, according to Syrian insurgents, activists and two top commanders of the American-financed F.S.A. groups. … The Syrian government is facing its own problems. While Mr. Assad appears unlikely to fall by force, he also seems unable to reassert full control over the country. Despite taking back most of the central city of Homs, government forces have not dislodged insurgents from the Al-Waer district. They have faced new attacks from extremists in the east and south and have been trying for months to encircle insurgents in the city of Aleppo. Mounting army casualties have left government supporters tired and grieving; some are resentful. … One commander of a group that received antitank missiles said that some F.S.A. fighters were forced to operate them in the battle on behalf of the Nusra Front, which had captured them from American-backed groups — a turn of events that he worried would lead the United States to cut off support. He bitterly likened the F.S.A. to prostitutes, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating American officials. ‘If I wear Arabic dress and let my beard grow, the West will hate me and Nusra will love me, and vice versa. We are kissing everyone’s rear to get support.'”
Quickie Analysis: An excellent, if depressing, look at how Syria has turned into a war with no possible winners.