Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Stalemate in Syria? Army short on loyalists, rebels short on guns

The regime of Bashar al-Assad appears to be favoring long-range weapons out of fear that soldiers close to the front lines will defect. 

By Correspondent / November 25, 2012

Members of the Free Syrian Army are pictured in the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa Province, Nov. 22.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters


Aleppo, Syria

A little more than a week ago, Ahmad Dahar was a member of the embattled Syrian government’s state security service in Damascus. Although he was officially a guard, he says he was not allowed to carry a weapon or go on any missions because he is a Sunni Muslim while the country's core leaders are from the minority Alawite sect of Islam. 

Skip to next paragraph

“They’re afraid the Sunnis will try to kill the regime loyalists,” says Mr. Dahar. “They also worry that these people will defect.”  

In the early days of the now 20-month conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives, the newly defected Dahar says non-Alawite soldiers like himself were taken on missions, but frequently defected to the opposition as soon as they escaped the gaze of their commanders. When officers caught on, they placed such soldiers under close supervision, even taking away their weapons.

After months of brutal fighting, the conflict appears stalemated in many areas, without any side making significant progress. There is mounting speculation that the Army of President Bashar al-Assad is struggling to advance because it lacks enough loyal ground troops to launch a major assault without suffering mass defections. While daily clashes continue, much of the violence now taking place in Aleppo is the result of long-range weapons, such as artillery, airplanes, tanks, and snipers that inflict damage while minimizing the risk of contact and defection.

Defectors say Army struggling

A number of those soldiers who have left the Assad Army in recent weeks and months paint a picture of a military struggling to maintain the loyalty of anyone who has not been a longtime beneficiary of patronage from the Assad regime. 

“When the revolution started they didn’t have this idea that so many soldiers might defect,” says Abu Obaida, an Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel fighter in Aleppo who defected about five months ago. “They sent many soldiers to their hometowns. They told them that they would fight terrorists, and when they arrived they saw their friends and family.”

Policemen who now often fight alongside the Army are among those who have had the easiest time defecting because they were not originally forced to live on military bases. Before the fighting started in Aleppo this summer, Abu Omar al-Homsi was among 70 police officers in the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood of Aleppo.


  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!