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Damascus water crisis ends as Syrian army captures Wadi Barada

A general view shows people walking near the Barada river in the Syrian capital Damascus on January 3, 2017. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is trying to seize control of the region which supplies the main drinking water for four million inhabitants of the capital and surrounding areas. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA

The Jihadi interruption of the water supply to Damascus – which has gone on virtually unreported in the Western media for 44 days – is set to end, with the Syrian army finally gaining control of the water springs in Wadi Barada which provide water to Syria’s capital.

Al-Masdar’s report confirming the capture of the springs contains this sardonic comment about the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis who have surrendered to the Syrian army in Wadi Barada

With the Syrian Army in control of Wadi Barada, the remaining jihadist rebels will be transferred to the Idlib Governorate, where they will be reacquainted with their comrades.

The ironic last words refer to the fierce fighting currently going on between Jihadi groups in Idlib province.

Events since the Syrian army’s capture of eastern Aleppo highlight its continuing problems.

The Syrian army has been obliged to send reinforcements to repel ISIS offensives in Deir Ezzor and Palmyra regions, and to repel an attempt by ISIS to cut the Khanasser road, which connects Aleppo to the heartland areas under the Syrian government’s control in central and southern Syria.

At the same time the Syrian army has to find troops to protect Aleppo itself, whilst carrying out an advance towards the strategic ISIS held town of Al-Bab to the north of Aleppo.

The Syrian army also needs to contain a large and dangerous concentration of Al-Qaeda fighters in northern Hama province, whilst maintaining pressure on the Al-Qaeda’s main bastion, which is Idlib province.

Lastly, it has been forced to commit troops to clearing the countryside around Damascus, including taking control of Wadi Barada in order to restore the water supply to Damascus, whilst maintaining security in Damascus itself and in the various town and cities under the government’s control.

So many operations on so many widely dispersed fronts stretches the Syrian army’s limited resources, and puts intense strain on its soldiers, even despite the fact that they must now feel that they have the momentum of victory behind them.

Quite simply the Syrian army cannot be overwhelmingly strong everywhere at the same time, which is why it occasionally has to retreat, and why its advances – unlike those of its opponents when they occur – have to be incremental.

This point was recently made by – of all people -the director of Russia’s Hermitage Museum (whose museum is responsible for the restoration of Palmyra), who has explained ISIS’s recapture of Palmyra by the delay in launching the offensive to capture eastern Aleppo, which meant that there were insufficient numbers of high quality Syrian troops available in and around Palmyra to defend the town.  This is of course essentially the same point the Russian military has also made.

Criticisms of the various ceasefires in Syria that the Russians broker (including the present one), which sometimes explain them in terms of divisions within the Russian government, in my opinion fail to accord sufficient weight to this factor.

Precisely because the Syrian army’s resources are both limited and so highly extended, it is the Syrian army not its opponents which benefits most from the ceasefires, which give it the time and space it needs to rest and resupply, and to concentrate its otherwise over-stretched forces in those places where fighting continues to take place.

The Syrian war is a gruelling war of attrition.  The Syrian army’s limited resources mean it cannot be otherwise.  Ceasefires are an inseparable part of the sort of war the Syrian army has to fight.  They key point is that it is winning it.

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