Syrian Civil War explained [censored]

This is a sanitised version of a rant from October 2015.

I'm getting increasingly "disappointed" by comments about the Syrian Civil War and by the Western military reactions.
Thus even though I don't think the Syrian Civil War is in any way related to the defence of my country or its allies*, I will write down an explanation. 
All of this could have been understood within the framework of 18th century art of war already.

First, Da'esh (also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL - I don't think they're a "state", though). Their success is explained by a single, simple fact: They possess strategic and operational mobility.
This is not a matter of motor vehicles. They would still possess superior mobility if they used camels only. This is NOT about hardware. Their mobility stems from their personnel structure. They have a mercenary army. Their mercs are not all in it for money, but they are - typical mercenary - not from the region, and this is all-important. A jihadist from Europe doesn't care whether he's being sent into a fight in Western Syria or in Eastern Syria - Da'esh can even send him into Iraq.

Meanwhile, the other civil war factions have always been or have devolved** into local militias or networks thereof. Their fighters typically expect to eat their mother's or wife's meals every day at home, and don't intend to fight in some part of Syria unknown to them or even inhabited by some other ethnic or religious group.
These militias cannot easily muster the troops concentration for an offensive, and the few times they did they failed, not the least due to lack of unity of command. Essentially, they can only fight at home or in other regions of their own group, whereas Da'esh can set up a Schwerpunkt and attack with local superiority at any front.

The Assad regime would have lost long ago had it not received support from some mercs as well - Hezbollah. Yet Hezbollah isn't really in this civil war to win all of Syria back for Assad - they're rather motivated to protect the Shi'ites from what would happen if the Sunni forces conquer Shi'ite territory or even all of Syria. So Hezbollah is not much of a mobile reserve for Assad, particularly not any more after they experienced severe casualties.

Now about the bombing campaign of Western powers and Arab autocrats:
What they're doing are strikes at intelligence-delivered targets and at targets of opportunity. They kill, maim and destroy. It's pointless, because all this does is it suppresses Da'esh temporarily and partially.
They cannot win through this campaign of attrition unless Da'esh makes a huge mistake itself. Da'esh can simply avoid defeat by keeping its exposure small enough to not lose more personnel and material to the bombing campaign and ground combat than they can replace. This isn't difficult because their opponents on the ground lack a good punch, as I explained above.
These generals employ air power not to "win", but to delay defeat - again. They did the same over Afghanistan already.

Now the Russians. It appears they bomb with a regional focus, mostly preparing or supporting offensive action on the ground. It seems they did also motivate Assad to scrape together some kind of smallish mobile reserves, which can then be supported in action by air power. Assad doesn't appear to have been capable of mobilizing enough reserves, but Russian ground forces or increased economic strength through Russian subsidies may change this. The Russians may be incapable of super-technicised, sophisticated synchronised strike packages including SEAD, aerial refuelling, standoff jamming and whatnot, but at least they appear to have a modicum of art of war understanding. They may soon disappoint in this regard, of course - and I wouldn't mind it with Eastern European security in mind.

Meanwhile, the usual warmonger suspects who write in English have no more sophisticated proposals than to throw more resources at the problem, preferably many ground troops.

Not only those who start a war are responsible for its horrors, but also those who fail to end it quickly.

edit: The Washington Post offers a map of the air attacks, and a description of the recent fighting.

edit2: I noticed that this blog post may be misunderstood. I do NOT mean to assert that Daesh is superior and will win. They are doomed because they made too many enemies, period. It's going to be defeated by land power, though - air power is merely a supportive component.


*: The Turkish government is embarrassing and insulting its own military when it claims they need help from allies, but they don't care because the secular military is not the AKP's darling
**: The Assad regime, which began to rely ever more on Shia and Alawite militias the more the regular army broke apart.


  1. There is another component, the force density and space facing ISIS is such that the superior mobility can be exploited. While the other factions in Syria prefer the blunt approach, ISIS picks his spots.
    Assad has a two class army, with the better units being capable of retaking any spot lost by the lesser units.

    The west lacks a clear goal, is it removing the regime or fighting the ISIS. If it is removing the regime, they need a short ground campaign by Turkey. The problem is, there is no secular opposition left.

    At the moment, this strategy will lead to security issues for Turkey due to Kurds.

    1. Assad's Tiger force appears to be fixed in an Aleppo quagmire and Hezbollah doesn't seem to be employed in offensives any more.

      Turkey's national security problem are all home-made, by its own government.

  2. Allepo is the key to both sides, the southern front is mostly silent and the other regions have been pacified by the regime. Only in the north the FSA have enough support to do much, while the regime could win the war by taking Allepo and freeing up forces in a domino effect.

    There seems to be a division between Iran and Russia whether to pursue such an offense or negotiate, the victory was within grasp when the regime offense cut off the rebels in half in February.

    Turkey has a lot of issues, but the Kurdish question is not a homemade problem. For all his faults, Erdogan has actually improved the situation. But no matter how wise or unwise a course he would pursue, if there is a Kurdish state in Syria and Iraq, and that is the case at the moment, Turkey will have a security issue.