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Additional information about Syrian rebels and a continuation of Regarding the Syrian Rebels, Regarding the Syrian Rebels II, Regarding the Syrian Rebels III and Regarding the Syrian Rebels IV.


Rebel Numbers

On Tuesday September 3, 2013 at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria, Secretary of State Kerry said:

... in terms of the opposition numbers, you see ranges up to 80(,000), 90,000, 100,000 in total opposition. You see ranges from -- well, I don't want to go into all the numbers, but in the tens of thousands in terms of operative, active combatants. The -- I've seen some recent data on the numbers of the extremists in al-Nusra. They're actually lower than former expectations.

On Wednesday September 4, 2013 at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria, Secretary of State Kerry said:
I just don't agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That's not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists ... Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.

The number of rebels ('oppositionists' to SoS Kerry) is often reported to be around 90,000.

I believe that the number of rebels is between 40,000 and 50,000 - perhaps the 'tens of thousands' of 'operative, active combatants' SoS Kerry mentioned.

I also believe that the number of rebels the Obama Administration 'would deem to be bad guys' is between 10,500 (15% of 70,000) and 25,000 (25% of 100,000) - depending on whether the number includes only the global jihadi-salafi bloc of rebel groups or the global jihadi-salafi bloc of rebel groups and the Islamist, salafi, local jihadi-salafi bloc of rebel groups.

The Obama Administration has decided not to 'deem to be bad guys' the bloc of soft Islamist, mainstream Islamist, and pragmatic salafi rebel groups.

This simple graphic illustrates the five main rebel blocs and how they overlap each other.

This year the number of rebels has been decreasing due to deaths, desertions, and a lack of new recruits.

Rebel and pro-opposition web sites put the number of rebel deaths so far this year at over 12,000.

I have been hearing, for about six months, that a significant number of rebels have just walked, or run or sneaked, away from the rebel groups they were in.

The number of rebel deserters has increased as public support for the rebels in Syria has decreased. There is still wide-spread anti-Assad sentiment but there is also a great deal of anti-opposition and anti-rebel sentiment, and this growing anti-rebel sentiment has also resulted in a major decrease in the number of Syrians who are willing to join the rebel forces.

Constant battles for supremacy between rebel groups, looting by some rebel groups, attempts by several rebel groups to impose their interpretations of Sharia on local populations, and many rebel groups' inability to care for, or lack of interest in caring for, the local populations in the areas they control have caused many Syrians to ask 'What are we fighting for?'.

In the past month I have heard about a sudden significant decline in public support for the opposition and rebels. Promises of rebel advances and promises to improve conditions in rebel controlled areas have not been kept, and the approaching winter has begun to loom menacingly in the minds of many people.

The winter of 2011-2012 was, relatively speaking, not very difficult. Syria had a one-year stockpile of food which carried the country through that winter. The winter of 2012-2013, though, was very difficult. Agricultural production was down about 50% in 2012 and there was essentially no stockpile to make up the deficit. Food imports, and aid brought in from Turkey helped keep people alive, but the rivalries between rebel groups often made it difficult for food to be effectively delivered in rebel controlled areas.

Now as the winter of 2013-2014 approaches, the people of Syria, especially those in areas under rebel control, are anxious, very anxious. They know that agricultural production this year has been low and remember the rebel and opposition infighting and incompetence of last winter.

Where are the Rebels?

This map gives a fairly good indication of the situation in Syria.

The rebels are concentrated in northern Syria, west and north of Aleppo and east of the Euphrates. There are few Syrian government forces in these areas, a few locations north of Aleppo, a few locations in the ar-Raqqah Governorate, and in, around, and north of the city of al-Hasakah. Kurdish groups are also concentrated in the same areas, along the Turkish-Syrian border in northern Syria.

In western Syria Syrian government forces are predominant. There are large areas in western Syria which are shown on the map as 'contested', but the question is 'How contested are these areas?'.

According to the information I have, Syrian government forces are much stronger and much more in control in these contested areas than rebel forces.

Also, if you monitor opposition and rebel web sites you will have noticed that rebel forces have not been able to mount any major attacks in these areas for months and rebel efforts in these areas have been primarily resisting Syrian government forces' efforts to cut rebel supply lines, surround rebel forces, and clear the areas they have surrounded.

I have started to believe that due to the general decrease in the number of rebel forces and to the rebels' concentrating their forces in northern Syria, rebel forces are on the edge of no longer being a viable force in western Syria.

As to the viability of the rebels in northern Syria; if battles between rebel groups for supremacy continue, and if battles between rebel groups and Kurdish groups continue, and if the people in the areas controlled by rebel groups suffer this winter because of opposition and rebel incompetence or lack of interest, the future viability of the rebel forces in northern Syria is doubtful.


The Geneva Process

I was hoping to finish this series today but I haven't had the time, so tomorrow in Regarding the Syrian Rebels VI I am going to write about the 'Geneva Process' and how a negotiated end to the unrest in Syria may be possible.

But, if the UN chemical weapons report is the major subject of discussion tomorrow, I'll wait a day or two more.

Also please note that I wasn't able to publish this yesterday as planned because
my internet connection stopped working yesterday afternoon and only came back this morning.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for bring us fresh information, and for (8+ / 0-)

    spreading it out so clearly. Rather huge and complex clusterfuck going on. Many innocents caught in the crossfire, the food shortages, and the general hell.

    But you help us, at least to get a bit of a grasp on what's happening on the ground, in your neck of the woods.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 12:38:56 PM PDT

  •  Great write up, thank you InAntalya (7+ / 0-)
  •  More reason to pursue a diplomatic solution (6+ / 0-)

    Arming the rebels risks future blowback because it's so difficult to sort out"good rebels" from bad jihadists.

    But requiring rebel opposition groups to participate in UN peace talks could sort them out, sending the opportunist jihadists/salafists home in disappointment.

  •  We so need a diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    InAntalya, chuckvw, YucatanMan

    About Geneva 2.    Your retrospective would be invaluable.

  •  Thanx a lot for your reports. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    InAntalya, YucatanMan

    It is very much appreciated.

    He who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

    by Sophie Amrain on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 01:27:53 PM PDT

  •  We agree. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    InAntalya, YucatanMan

    It's creepy.

  •  Thank you for all the work you do to (6+ / 0-)

    give us insight into the situation in Syria.

    A few points come to mind:

    1. The percentage breakdown of rebel memberships is one thing. But what of an actual power breakdown: things like organization; financial strength; territory/borders controlled; prospects of foreign recruits joining in, etc.
    2. Recalling the Mujaheads of Afghanistan days, the US allies against the Soviets who then turned to be our enemies, what of the rebels we are currently supporting? If they could rid themselves of Assad, would they then turn on us, or do they like the US?
    3. It is exceedingly strange to my mind that we know the jihadi-types (literal al-qaeda and affiliates) have camps; troop concentrations; leaderships; etc and the US isn't bombing the shit out of them.
          Add in the UN's belief that such groups used sarin in March 2013 in at least Aleppo, and by Russian accounts, in Homs Dec 2012...
          Plus the ethnic cleansing of Christian areas (450,000 of the 2 mllion refugees being Christians)...
          Well, what's that?
    4. And what do you know of the truth (or not) of this report from the Russians, which claims to be based on Turkish sources that Turkish prosecutors indict Syrian rebels for seeking chemical weapons. According to the story ten tons of ingredients used to make sarin were sought by a members of al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham.

    Not that I expect you to know the answers to any of these; then again, I wouldn't be surprised if you did.

    But points which seem worthy of consideration, I believe.

    * * * * * * * *
    OT & PS: am about 1/3 through Orhan Pamuk's "My Name is Red." What an amazing writer!

    Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

    by Jim P on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 01:49:28 PM PDT

    •  Information I have about these four points. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim P, lebman, wu ming, chuckvw, YucatanMan, JesseCW

      1. The two most radical blocs (the bottom two on the graphic above) are the most 'effective' because they are the most radical and answer to no one. They are well financed and the sources of their finances are believed to be mostly very wealthy Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis. They are also more organized because they have at least 20 years of experience, and the non-Syrian rebels are mostly in these two blocs. They also control four border crossings between Turkey and Syria.

      2. One of the main reasons it has been difficult to provide weapons to the rebels is that because of the overlaps of the blocs there is no way to be sure that weapons provided through the SMC won't end up in the hands of al-Nusrah or ISI(S). All of the opposition members and rebels I have talked to loath the US and have no intention of being allies with the US if they were to win.

      3. Do you think there is any possibility that the US will bomb rebels who have very powerful Saudi, Qatari, and Kuwaiti connections?

      4. The news about the rebel efforts to buy these chemicals is true. It has been covered in the Turkish media and caused embarrassment for the Turkish government who were very instrumental in helping these groups get established and grow in Syria in 2011 and 2012.

      Lamb chop, we can quibble what to call it, but I think we can both agree it's creepy.

      by InAntalya on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:22:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you for the answers. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chuckvw, JesseCW

        Why I asked these questions was I plan to write soon about US geo-political strategy. Many at DKos find it bordering on Conspiracy Theory to suggest we have one.

        It seems to me that the entire "Syria/Assad's CW use" issue can't be properly approached unless one realizes that it's much more about Russia than it is about Syria. (Same goes for Libya and Iran)

        Though the public is not told that; nor can I recall the last time any debate open to the electorate was held in the US about our geo-political strategy. Maybe we came close in 1972, with the "dove" McGovern as the Dem Candidate.

        Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

        by Jim P on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 03:18:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  some points and a question (0+ / 0-)

        1. Turkey can shut down weapons supplied to the rebels once US demands it. Now the US wants to keep the war going to weaken Assad further having avoided getting directly involved for whatever reason. Part of the problem is the US has no good sense where weapons end up

        2. If ISIS/NUSRA get too strong, it will be a huge problem for the west. An uncontrolled force in a large swath of land maybe able to survive without any external support

        3. Hope we never get to that point, but it is conceivable-Taliban, bin laden come to mind.

        4. Good thing US and Russia will work on taking out chemical weapons. Maybe Russia wants Syria to get rid of them in case they fall in rebel hands.

        5. Is there an appetite in Turkey for direct Turkish military involvement in Syria? Not to mention that will raise the specter of the Ottoman Empire many of us Arabs-Christian Sunni and Shia- loath to say the least.

  •  Who or What will stabilize Syria? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wu ming, subtropolis, YucatanMan

    Situation in Syria reminds me a lot of that in Lebanon 1973-90.
    1. Weakening of the central government,
    2. large number of armed factions, many were from other countries (yes we had in addition to Lebanese and Palestinian refugee armed factions-militants from Libya, Somalia etc..)
    3. International meddling and international deals made on the backs of the Lebanese- Baker Assad deal before the Desert Storm comes to mind

    However; it took a military occupation by the Syrian army, as much as we hated it, to stabilize the country.
    It took a 170,000 US troops to somewhat stabilize Iraq and have a semblance of government.
    It took a significant NATO force to bring stability in the former Yugoslavia.
    Somalia is a mess.

    Who will stabilize Syria?
    I wonder what will happen to Syria and whether factions on the ground will agree to any new government structure.

    Looking forward to your Geneva 2 diary.

  •  Late comment (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I nearly missed this diary and just want to add my thanks for this important information, the best analysis I've seen so far.

    Orwell - "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable"

    by truong son traveler on Wed Sep 18, 2013 at 09:29:58 PM PDT

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