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Syria's Assad is using 'siege and starve' tactics to win the war. Here's what he might target next

Syria's Assad is using 'siege and starve' tactics to win the war. Here's what he might target next
From CBC - April 17, 2018

Syrian dictatorBashar al-Assadhas been waging a brutallyeffective"siege and starve" campaign for years, military analysts say, a practice hisregime will likely continue as it advances to capture two key rebel-held provinces Idlibin the north andDaraain the south.

"Siege and starve" is as grim as it sounds, said ChrisKozak, a senior analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, where he focuses on Syrian strategy.

Bombing raids destroy hospitals, mosques and markets, making existence in opposition-held regions untenable. The tactic involves fighters cordoning off opposition-held terrain and proceeding "to make life inside that terrain miserable" through a combination of sieges, cutting off food and medical supplies, wagingairstrikesand ground attacks, "and keeping the pressure on those pockets until life becomes so unsustainable that people would agree to a reconciliation deal or evacuation," he said.

"There's a method to the brutality," Kozaksaid. "The Syrian Arab Army has been trying to avoid these painful, urban block-by-block fights, and instead they are willing to be patient and to starve out these populations ... until they cannot function."

The campaign, aided by Russianair powerand Iranian ground forces, helped to empty out easternGhouta, which was home to an estimated 400,000 people before the latest offensive began in March. The formerly rebel-held enclave just east of the capital of Damascus fell recently to the regime after weeks under siege and culminating in the suspected illegal chemical attack inDouma, the last town that was under opposition control.

Assad's goal, as the Syrian dictator stated in 2016, "is to recapture the whole of Syria" and claim total dictatorial control over the nation.

"Assad is winning the war because he has a clear strategy, which is to absolutely crush all resistance," both armed and political, said James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security advisor who has served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey.

"He's trying to terrorize the population and drive them from their homes in the country."

Experts estimate Assad has consolidated 70 per cent of territory. More importantly, about two-thirds of the remaining Syrian population lives under his rule. That's significant,Kozaksaid, givenviolent extremist groups such as ISIS, have been squeezed out to empty desert areas, making them less strategically relevant.

Assad has all the large cities after five million refugees fled the country.

The regime's success can be attributed in part to a fractured opponent made up of many rival insurgent factions, as well as "fickle" support from foreign nations like the U.S., said MichaelO'Hanlon, who specializes in military strategy and foreign policy at theBrookingsInstitution.

"That's how this war evolved from a stalemate to a win for Assadat least in the western quadrant of Syria."

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