Note: Even though the western media tend to refer only to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) when reporting on Syrian rebel forces, the Syrian rebels are not a unified force.
There are many different groups. Some are part of the FSA, some are part of the FSA in name only, and some are not part of the FSA.
Some of the rebel groups cooperate occasionally, but there is a great deal of discord and rivalry between the various groups and groups which cooperate one day can fight each other the next.
The basic tactics and assumptions which Syrian rebel forces initially used and counted on were quite simple:
- Constantly pop-up in multiple locations and attack government forces and whenever possible establish control over an area and when not quickly retreat. The objective being to weaken government forces by forcing them to have to spread themselves thinly around the country.
- Cut government forces' supply lines or, if this was not possible, disrupt them as much as possible, forcing government forces to have to spend a significant amount of resources on supply efforts.
- Establish supply lines for rebel forces and, most importantly, take control of areas along the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders where supplies could be sent in.
- Count on casualties and defections to weaken government forces while also counting on an assumed pool of 10 to 15 million Syrians to replenish and increase rebel forces numbers.
- Count on the Syrian governments' having to devote a great deal of its resources to keeping the country running while being able to devote all of their resources to attacking government forces.
For quite a while rebel forces enjoyed a degree of military success, but it seems that shifts in tactics and conditions are in progress now.
It has turned out that the pool of 10 to 15 million Syrians which rebel forces counted on to replenish and increase their numbers didn't materialize, and it is now rebel forces who are suffering from attrition - high casualties, defections, and few willing to join - while government forces numbers have remained relatively stable.
It has also turned out that rebel forces now have to devote a great deal of their resources to maintaining their positions in the areas under their control, both to administer and keep under control the populations in these areas and to keep rival rebel groups from trying to take control of them.
Signs have begun to appear that it is now government forces who are forcing rebel forces to be thinly spread by launching multiple attacks on multiple rebel positions. Rebel forces don't seem to have sufficient numbers to hold the areas which they control and to defend against multiple attacks by government forces.
Government forces have been attacking rebel positions and have begun to take back control of and reestablish the supply lines which rebel forces had cut last year. This will allow government resources which were being used for difficult supply efforts to be used for combat.
Government forces have been able to cut or severely disrupt some of the rebels supply lines from Lebanon and Jordan, and inside Syria.
Most of the rebel supply lines from Turkey are now overloaded with humanitarian aid which is keeping the people in rebel controlled areas in northwestern and north central Syria alive, but government forces have also begun to disrupt the rebels' weapons supply lines in northwestern Syria.
In addition to these shifts in tactics and conditions, a few months ago I began noticing that some rebel groups (especially the radical Islamic and Arab tribes rebel groups) were moving much of their operations to the east of the Euphrates and that this was causing increasing tension between the various rebel groups, between rebel groups and Kurdish groups, and between rebel groups and local residents in these areas east of the Euphrates.
It is very possible that in the next few months government forces will consolidate their control over most of western Syria, and that rebel forces will concentrate their forces to the east of the Euphrates, and that rebel forces will maintain their control over the very troubled areas west, north, and northeast of Aleppo.