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Assad admits troop shortages

July 26, 2015

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has admitted that his army is short of troops and has abandoned some areas. In a rare public speech, he insisted his forces could still beat rebels after four years of civil war.

Syrien TV-Auftritt Bashar Assad
Image: picture-alliance/Press TV via AP video

Assad told applauding loyalists in Damascus that his regime was "not collapsing" and said the Syrian army had quit some territory to secure more "critical areas," before adding that dialogue with rebels would be meaningless.

His televised speech followed a general amnesty for Syrian army deserters and draft dodgers announced by his government on Saturday.

"The army is capable … Everything is available, but there is a shortfall in human capacity," he said.

Millions of refugees

Since 2011, more than four million Syrians have fled abroad to fill refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan while also trying to reach Europe. Some have traveled as far afield as Uruguay. Millions of Syrians are also displaced within their war-torn home country.

Less than half of Syria is now controlled by Assad-allied forces, including fighters of the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Iranian advisers.

Various militias control patches of territory. The extremist "Islamic State" group holds about a third of Syria despite northern inroads made by Kurdish fighters inside Syria's border with Turkey.

Syrien Idlib al-Thawra Bombardierung
Syria's trauma has now entered its fifth year, with regions like Idlib utterly devastatedImage: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah

In May, IS seized Syria's central city of Palmyra from the Syrian military.

Loss of Idlib

Assad sought to justify why his forces had given up on some areas, including the loss in March of most of the northwestern province of Idlib to the al Qaeda-backed Nusra Front.

"It was necessary to specify critical areas for our armed forces to hang on to," he said. "We are not collapsing. We are steadfast and will achieve victory."

Assad again claimed that his government had not wanted war, saying "when it was imposed on us, the Syrian Arab army repelled the terrorists everywhere."

He has often referred in the past to rebels fighting his rule as "terrorists."

Sunday's speech was his first public utterance since he began a third seven-year term as president in July last year. In the interim, he gave interviews to several Arab and international media outlets.

More than 230,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, when anti-government protests and a crackdown resulted in civil war.

ipj/bk (AP, Reuters, AFP)