Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Syria – by Fabrice Balanche

Fabriche Balanche SyriaInsurgency and Counterinsurgency in Syria – by Fabrice Balanche


Bashar al-Assad is clearly on the path to victory by way of continuing gains since Qusayr in June 2013. From the spring of 2013, the Syrian army, helped by Hezbollah, has been retaking territories: the southern suburbs of Damascus, the Qalamoun, and most recently, the center of Homs. The Syrian regime is not only massively supported by Iran and Russia (something the insurgency lacks), but Assad also applies a highly effective strategy of counterinsurgency. The rise of Islamists against him provided the ideology that Bashar al-Assad needed, i.e. the fight against Islamist terrorists supported from abroad. By demonstrating his resoluteness, Bashar al-Assad wants to reassure his supporters and win over the silent majority. The latter no longer seek the return of peace, but are falling into line behind the force that can ensure their security and is most likely to win.

Several rapid and symbolic victories, such as the reclamation of Bab Amer in March 2012, provided material that the government could instrumentalize in propagandist argumentation, as they sought to convey to the population that the rebels were responsible for the death and destruction.

The al-Assad regime is now supported by a new civil and military elite, who have been promoted over the course of events, as less competent officers have been eliminated. The regime also benefits from strong Iranian logistical support in counterinsurgency. The military regime’s strategy is clear: to first concentrate the army’s efforts on the usable parts of Syria and on border control, and to then follow by resuming the effort to reclaim disputed territories, once securing greater support from the population for the cause of the regime. The chaos in areas held by the insurgency, with the attendant lack of civil administration (which is also partially due to the regime’s air raids), promotes the attractiveness of government-controlled areas (where the greatest majority of the 7 million internally displaced people are residing), which in turn bolsters the counterinsurgency.


Download the entire article (in French) from Syria Comment, or visit Fabrice’s page.

Comments (35)

Aboud Dandachi said:

Whoever wrote this seems oblivious to the lessons of every guerrilla war since the Vietnam War; namely, that in these kinds of conflicts, armies can go on fighting forever and win “victory” after Pyrrhic victory for years, but the government can’t win in the absence of a political framework or process that diminishes the support for the opposition. Iraq, duh.

Nothing in Bashar’s history demonstrates that daddy’s second choice is even remotely capable of coming up with the kind of political initiative that can end the war. This is a man who hasnt shown his face since the sham of a presidential “election”.

What Fabrice Balanche ignores is that for these kinds of rebellions to be quashed, the reasons and circumstances that gave rise to them in the first place have to be addressed. We saw that in Northern Ireland. We also saw the consequences of relying on brute force in Iraq. Assad can only be perceived as “winning” if one ignores the astonishing rise of ISIS in the past two years. The man should be hung solely for allowing ISIS a safe haven in Raqqa from which to spread to the rest of the Middle East.

“Elite”. Please. Assad’s division in Raqqa have been hiding in their barracks while ISIS crucified people in the town. If this is the sort of “elite” Assad is depending on, after a year I will be coming back to this very article to mock Balanche and his notions of an imminent Assad victory.

June 14th, 2014, 1:25 am


ALAN said:

/Obama: Help to Iraq limited as terror its own problem! /
Is the war not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous?
Be away from the events! Okey? Will advise the Russians and Chinese to stop this farce!

June 14th, 2014, 3:31 am


Aboud Dandachi said:

If Assad was “winning” then why have 145 high level loyalist individuals been begging and pleading for Lebanese nationality?

June 14th, 2014, 6:26 am


Aboud Dandachi said:

Assad’s triumphant road to glorious victory continues…by losing the base at Tel Jomo’ near Dar’a *facepalm*

June 14th, 2014, 7:07 am



Bullshit and delusional wishful thinking.

June 14th, 2014, 8:43 am


ghufran said:

9 top commanders at the FSA, or what is left of it, have resigned:
1- العقيد الركن: عبد الباسط الطويل / قائد الجبهة الشمالية

2- العقيد مصطفى هاشم / قائد الجبهة الغربية و الوسطى

3- العقيد الركن فاتح حسون / قائد جبهة حمص

4- المقدم الدكتور المهندس / محمد العبود / قائد الجبهة الشرقية

5- العقيد الركن عفيف سليمان / رئيس المجلس العسكري بإدلب

6- العقيد الركن محمد معتز أرسلان / رئيس المجلس العسكري في الرقة

7- العقيد الركن بشار سعد الدين / قائد المجلس العسكري في حمص

8- العقيد محمد عواد / رئيس المجلس العسكري في الساحل

9- المقدم عبد المجيد سلطان / رئيس المجلس العسكري في الحسكة

This list has names that have been circulated in the past as candidates for sensitive military positions in a future new Syrian army, the problem is:
1. FSA is now a paper tiger, most of the fight and the money is done and received by Islamist terrorist groups.
2. FSA is totally controlled by Turkey and the GCC
3. recent advances in Syria by government troops and the negotiated cease fires in a number of Syrian towns made the FSA even less relevant.

In the past, resigned officers in the FSA were smuggled in to Turkey and GCC countries using money that was supposed to be allocated for the “revolution”, others built their wealth by using Mafia-type tactics to force business owners and wealthy Syrians to pay a fee to keep their business protected and shield their families and money from the hungry eyes of thawrajiyyeh.
You can talk as much as you want about the regime and its problems, and there are many, but the new regime that has been advocated by NATO, GCC and Turkey would have been much worse.
Positive political changes come from within and not from foreign forces and international terrorist groups, when the armed and expat opposition accepted foreign money and started taking orders from Qatar, Turkey and KSA and when they called the terrorists of Nusra and ISIS “partners” they lost legitimacy in the eyes of millions of Syrians, the recent confrontation with ISIS is not over principles it is over money and influence, many thawrajiyyehs never had a problem with the ideology of Nusra (and some even accepted ISIS fascist view of the world), look at our archives and learn.

June 14th, 2014, 11:47 am


ghufran said:

The army is advancing towards Kasab, it is possible that Kasab will be free from Islamist terrorists before we all go back to work on Monday (or sooner)

June 14th, 2014, 2:37 pm


Badr said:

In case you feel the urge to give the author a piece of your mind, try e-mailing him!

June 14th, 2014, 2:43 pm


Uzair8 said:

So Assad is ‘winning’ according to the propagandists/pundits?

My previous comment mentioned the dilemma faced by Iraqi fighters/militias in Syria.

A poster on Iran Military Forum wrote this today:

‘Just heard the news that Iraqi brigade fighting in Syria is going back home to fight ISIl. Not good news they where holding many positions in Deraa province. SAA will surly miss them.’

June 14th, 2014, 2:57 pm


Uzair8 said:

So Assad is ‘winning’ huh?

Recall in a previous comment I talked about the ‘territorial’ versus the ‘guerrila’ phase.

Remember since a couple of years ago the regime, being short of men and reluctant to send troops into opposition areas, shifted strategy in which they kept a safe distance and shelled (artillery) those areas whilst also using aerial power.

Regime forces in more isolated areas bunkered down in their fortified bases. In this it was difficult for rebels to get at regime forces though Assad still faced losses.

If we were to enter the guerrila phase with Assad holding much of the territory and his forces now in the open the mobile rebels would be able to inflict much more damage on these exposed forces.

A guerrila phase could go on for years eventually wearing down the Assad camp.

To be continued…

June 14th, 2014, 3:07 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Aboud Dandachi #1,

I agree with you. There’s no way the Syrian army army can win this.

June 14th, 2014, 3:11 pm


Uzair8 said:

So Assad is winning? (Continued)..

This conflict has frequently ebbed and flowed and pundits have prematurely predicted/claimed victory for Assad for the zillionth time.

The current Iraqi developments should show us how half a country can change hands in a couple of days! A major city (2nd largest) fell in a matter of hours!

If Assad was to ever take back the majority of the territory then he would face an effective guerrila war for years.

Pundits should resist the temptation to claim victory on behalf of the regime as it only serves as psy ops.

This isn’t over by a long way. The regime is irredeemable. Only its overthrow will end the matter.

It’s not over by a longshot…

June 14th, 2014, 3:31 pm


Uzair8 said:

Ramadan is only a couple of weeks away.

The month alway revitalises the revolution. More headache for Assad thugs.

June 14th, 2014, 4:09 pm


Ghufran said:

It is true that the Syrian army is not able to control Syria as a whole by force but the days when rebels can control large cities are over. The regime has to be changed for the sake of peace and the sake of Syria’s unity, or semi unity, however for that to happen the country needs a force that keeps relative security and that force can not be the collection of Islamist brigades we have now that are openly allied with or in bed with alqaida and Isis.
Rebels and their backers brought nothing but misery and destruction to the same people they said they are protecting, things in rebels controlled towns are so bad that the only way for rebels to stay in charge was to imprison or crucify every Syrian citizen who said no.
People who trusted Islamist rebels fell in a trap, they acted like a battered woman in an abusive relationship who left her bad husband and ran away with a thug.

June 14th, 2014, 4:36 pm


Sami said:

“Bashar al-Assad is clearly on the path to victory”

what is the definition of victory in this sentence?

Yes, the Assadists currently have the momentum. They are gaining on the ground and recapturing land they lost to a bunch of rag tag cluster of rebels. However military gains equal NOT victory. The die has been cast, and blood has been spilled. A ton of it, and blood never sleeps.

This revolution will never stop until the tyrant is deposed and justice is served.

The biggest threat to Syrians has been from day one and continues to be Assad and his henchmen. The numbers, atrocities and data all point to that fact. To argue otherwise is nothing more than feeding obfuscation.

And can someone that keeps arguing about the vitality and importance of the so called Syrian Army please explain to me what and where is this “Syrian Army”?

June 14th, 2014, 5:06 pm


Ghufran said:

Most Nusra and Islamist fighters withdrew from Kasab
محافظة اللاذقية – المرصد السوري لحقوق الإنسان:: انسحب غالبية مقاتلي جبهة النصرة (تنظيم القاعدة في بلاد الشام) والكتائب الإسلامية من بلدة كسب
That does not mean the war has ended in reef Latakia near Turkey or that the army will stop at Kasab. Most rebels in the area are either foreign jihadists or Nusra terrorists. FSA presence in that area was limited to few photos by Jarba to justify his salary.

June 14th, 2014, 8:27 pm


apple_mini said:

The regime will gain not only politically but also militarily from the violent and dangerous upending situation in Iraq now.

Some of those rebels have flaunted their new “toys”-American made military equipment owned by Iraqi army. That could make a dent when they use new gadgets to fight against SAA. ISIS has stolen lots of money. It may boost their ranks. Those are short time gains.

Now, US has a solid initiative and reason to attack ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. What we have predicted last year is really turning into reality.

Nusra fighters are also showing off their gifts from ISIS brethren. Plus the close tie and support from GCC to ISIS, we cannot think of anything beneficial to the rebels or the opposition from Iraqi crisis if US is forced to pedal backwards from its current position allowing Saudi and Qatar to assist Islamist radicals with impunity.

Sometimes the best thing an underdog can do is to keep low profile.

June 15th, 2014, 12:48 am



Things are now much clearer than 2 or 3 years ago:

1- Saddam ousted from power by US and Iraq left for free to Iran

2- Hariri killed by? and Lebanon left to Hezballah

3- Assad free to fulfill genocide on Sunni 74 % population since Obama and US dimplocacy never ever wanted to act.

4- USA and Israel did not intervene while Rusia and Iran developed the full plan

5- USA ready to help Iran to reduce the last sunni columns

6- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to become new de facto provinces of Iran

7- Is the future of the Middle East to be in a permanent crisis under Persian Rule while the old centre or arab sunni resistence has become the centre of CHIA WORLD POWER? A power that will not do anything against Israel?

Or after destroying the original arab sunna inhabitants there will be a Sharp increase in percentage of chia in Syria, Irak and Lebanon and later Israe will ¨liberate¨ parts of Syria and Lebanon from chia and will add it to Great Israel?

June 15th, 2014, 5:18 am


Uzair8 said:

It seems regimists on here are hoping for US intervention against ISIS in Syria whereas previously they were labeling as traitors syrians calling for the same against the regime.

June 15th, 2014, 9:31 am


Juergen said:

Isis terror in Iraq

shocking image were published by ISIS about their bloody work, it looks like it paid off for Assad and his mafia to let alone in the Raqqa region for this long time.

PS: I detest what Pamela Geller usually posts, but she has published all pictures without any censorship.

June 15th, 2014, 10:44 am


ghufran said:

Waiting for the pro rebels boneheads to educate us about what did rebels achieve by occupying Kasab for less than 3 months except winning more enemies, looting churches and properties and increasing support for the regime !!

June 15th, 2014, 11:26 am


ALAN said:

/shocking images/
what do you mean by that? it is you, as a participant on this blog for a long time supported the killers! continue to create conduct that you did not know!
you are naked without a pearlescent mask!

June 15th, 2014, 11:51 am



Things are now much clearer than 2 or 3 years ago:

1- Saddam ousted from power by US and Iraq left for free to Iran

2- Hariri killed by? and Lebanon left to Hezballah

3- Assad free to fulfill genocide on Sunni 74 % population since Obama and US dimplocacy never ever wanted to act.

4- USA and Israel did not intervene while Rusia and Iran developed the full plan

5- USA ready to help Iran to reduce the last sunni columns

6- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to become new de facto provinces of Iran

7- Is the future of the Middle East to be in a permanent crisis under Persian Rule while the old centre or arab sunni resistence has become the centre of CHIA WORLD POWER? A power that will not do anything against Israel?

Is this how Assad is serving the world powers by genociding Syria´s populations?

June 15th, 2014, 2:22 pm


Mina said:

Some will be reminded of what they read coming out from Raqqa in the first days

June 15th, 2014, 2:56 pm


ALAN said:

I am going to entertain some people today as a Miztvah. People who are too old to utilize the net. I do this for my own sanity.. But, among some of the elderly are the young who work there: Brainless and without a clue that this is the atrocity that John McCain, Victoria Nuland, Pierre Omidyar, Soros and others have brought to the citizens of Ukraine: ( VIDEO )
Now, tell me how I can sing. How do you live with yourself, John McCain?? How can American people sleep at night? Are Americans totally without conscience?? I have been crying over this all morning long.

June 15th, 2014, 3:17 pm


ALAN said:

/Lindsey Graham – “If we don’t (bomb syria and Iraq) God help us because we are next”/ – bomb syria? is it your original american bombing idea? for bombing adminstration? wawoo ! do you know the god?
hands of the ME! close your Satanic ME section in CIA and Pentagon! Smoke A bamboo!

June 15th, 2014, 5:02 pm


chb said:

Now it seems rebels with ISIS have got their lethal weapons at last. When they’re done with Bagdad, back to Damas, and then to… to where, God knows.

June 15th, 2014, 7:04 pm


ALAN said:

/Tony Blair this morning said Britain needed to take action in Iraq and Syria – or face terror attacks in at home/.
Are you decide to croak Mr. parrot? You are badly stink! To shit you very expensive will manage.

June 15th, 2014, 7:36 pm


Roland said:

Russian support for the Syrian government has not been “massive.”

Russian support has been modest. It has been confined to resupply of parts and ammunition for existing Syrian weapons systems.

Has Russia provided modern body armour for Syrian infantry? No.

Has Russia provided precision-guided munitions for Syrian fighter-bombers? No.

Has Russia provided modern surveillance drones to help Syrian gov’t forces interdict rebel activity? No.

Has Russia provided advanced submunitions for Syrian artillery? No.

Has Russia provided the latest urban warfare upgrades for Syrian tanks and APC’s? No.

Any of these things could have significantly improved the fighting performance of Syrian government forces in the battle conditions typical in the Syrian Civil War. None of them would have cost the Russians very much to provide.

But Russia’s support for the Syrian government, while steady. has always been strictly limited in nature. Basically, Russia doesn’t supply anything to the Syrian government that they didn’t already supply to them before the civil war broke out.

That isn’t “massive” support. It would be best described as, “modest but consistent support.”

June 17th, 2014, 3:21 am


ALAN said:

Good note!

June 17th, 2014, 7:00 am


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