None of the battles alone represented the kind of decisive military victory that the rebels need if they are to claim control of an entire city or province and prod the international community for greater support. The rebels, most of them grouped loosely under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, have not demonstrated the capacity to capture any of the country’s major cities, and whether they will ever be in a position to dislodge the regime from the heavily guarded capital without help is in question.
Taken together, however, the gains underscore the steadily growing effectiveness of the rebel force and the accelerating erosion of what had once been one of the region’s most powerful armies, now severely depleted and on the defensive along almost all of the country’s many battle fronts.
The fighting is piecemeal, intense and likely to persist for many more months as regime troops and rebel fighters battle it out town by town and base by base across the vast swaths of the country that are being contested. But no longer is it possible to describe the war in Syria as a stalemate, said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the pace of rebel gains in recent weeks raises the prospect that a collapse of government forces could come sooner than has been expected.
“The war is turning against the regime, and it’s turning at a faster rate than we had seen before,” White said. “There’s a reasonable chance there will be some kind of breaking point, and the regime will collapse in a hurry. It’s not probable, but it’s possible, and then the guys with the guns will be in charge.”
Putting a timeline on the regime’s likely demise is impossible, analysts say, in part because so many other variables are in play, from the state of the Syrian economy to the prospect that the government could resort to the use of even greater force, including its arsenal of chemical weapons.
It is even possible that the regime may survive, said Charles Lister of the IHS Jane’s defense consulting firm, based in London. “Taking a longer-term view, you can’t look at an asymmetric conflict and determine whether there is going to be a winning side, and I don’t think we are near the end of the Syrian revolution yet,” he said.
But there seems to be little doubt that the momentum is shifting to the rebels’ advantage, said Joseph Holliday of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, and that in itself is having a cumulative effect on the battlefield. Each new base that falls yields new stashes of weaponry, and as larger bases are overrun, the quality of those weapons also is increasing.Videos released after the capture last week of Base 46, a major facility to the west of Aleppo, showed fighters acquiring tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and surface-to-air missiles as well as large quantities of ammunition.