BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered a sober assessment of the state of his forces on Sunday, acknowledging a manpower shortage and conceding troop withdrawals from some areas, but asserting that the military was not facing collapse.
The president defended a controversial triage strategy that has seen forces pull back from some zones while reinforcing units in other parts of the country.
“Are we giving up areas?” Assad asked as he posed a series of questions about the government’s strategy. “Why do we lose other areas? . . . And where is the army in some of the areas?”
The Syrian president endeavored to provide answers. But it was an open question whether his responses would reassure loyalists worried that the government could be losing its hold on the embattled country.
“Important areas must be specified for the armed forces to hold onto, so as to prevent the collapse of the other areas,” Assad said in a speech before a group of economic officials in Damascus.
The president also thanked his allies—notably Iran—while taking the West to task for supporting “terrorists,” the Syrian government’s standard term for the armed opposition fighting to wrest control of the country.
The core areas under government control include the capital, Damascus, and the strategic corridor north to the cities of Homs and Hama and west to the Mediterranean coast, a pro-government stronghold.
The presidential speech comes as the thinly stretched Syrian army has suffered a string of setbacks in the last few months, squeezing government forces into defensive positions in Syria’s northwest and in the south.
Despite conceding setbacks, Assad maintained a confident tone, insisting that Army recruitment numbers had increased in the last few months and that “there is no collapse … and we will be steadfast and will achieve the missions.”
“Defeat … does not exist in the dictionaries of the Syrian Arab army,” he insisted.