Assad Pulls Back, Redeploys Syrian Forces

(Al Jazeera) Nicholas Blanford - The Syrian army has been decimated by four years of fighting, with the number of soldiers dropping due to casualties and desertions from a pre-civil war strength of 300,000 to 80,000-100,000, according to diplomatic sources in Beirut. Even the emergence of loyalist Shia militia fighters from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is proving insufficient to defeat the rebel forces. in recent days Assad has issued an amnesty for army deserters and draft dodgers in a desperate attempt to boost recruitment. Iran's strategic interests in Syria are mainly focused on territory in the coastal areas and the area contiguous to the border with Lebanon, through which weapons are smuggled to Hizbullah. Since March, Iranian and Hizbullah forces have directed their attention to parts of the country that could be included in the enclave. They have pulled out of most of southern Syria and are now deployed along a line at Kisweh, nine miles south of Damascus. In the coastal areas, they are helping establish a new militia called the Coastal Shield Brigade, formed mainly of Alawites who wish to fight closer to their homes.

2015-07-29 00:00:00

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