New ISW Report Examines Syria’s Maturing Insurgency

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Washington, D.C. – Fifteen months into the uprising in Syria, international leaders are still struggling to figure out how to support Syria’s evolving opposition. In his new report Senior Research Analyst Joseph Holliday suggests that external support to the insurgency could do as much harm as good if it is not directed in a way that reinforces the growth of responsible rebel organizations.

“Increased external support for Syria’s insurgency has contributed to its success on the battlefield, but the resulting competition for resources has encouraged radicalization and infighting,” he writes. “This ad hoc application of external support has undermined the professionalization of the opposition’s ranks. Carefully managing this support could reinforce responsible organizations and bolster organic structures within the Syrian opposition.”

Holliday writes that the insurgency is growing, counting about 40,000 men in June, and provincial military councils have emerged to coordinate the activities of rebel units. President Bashar al-Assad’s troops are losing the ability to control areas outside major cities, and new groups are forming at the local level. ch harm averal localities commanders  and rebels are gaining strength in the countryside.

“The Assad regime holds key cities but lacks the forces required to secure the whole country,” Holliday writes. “It has failed to defeat the opposition decisively despite its best efforts, and government presence in the rural, central corridor does not extend beyond checkpoints and outposts.”

This is the fifth report on Syria that ISW has published. Holliday previously wrote “Syria’s Armed Opposition,” an in-depth look at the Free Syrian Army and its affiliates, and “The Struggle for Syria in 2011: An Operational and Regional Analysis,” an examination of the first months of the revolution. Research Analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy published “Syria’s Political Struggle: Spring 2012” and “Syria’s Political Opposition.”

To speak with a Syria analyst, please contact Stephanie Robson at or at (202) 253-1150.


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