Syria: On 29 November, the administration of Damascus’ airport cancelled all incoming and outgoing flights because rebel groups had cut the road from the airport to Damascus, for the first time.
Syrian rebels also used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADs) that were captured from Syrian forces to shoot down a government helicopter and a fixed wing combat aircraft in a 24-hour period.
Comment: The Syrian uprising crossed an important strategic threshold with the first demonstrated capability to shoot down government aircraft. This is a major escalation of the threat to the Damascus government.
One news report stated an opposition group had captured 40 MANPADS in recent overruns of government air force bases. That number is enough to neutralize the government’s air advantage, provided they are distributed adequately to trained shooters. A key question is who is providing the training. That is almost certainly US special forces.
The gradual loss of air superiority means the regime cannot survive, though its demise is not yet imminent.
Several other recent tactical successes by opposition fighting groups also almost certainly are the result of US and possibly other Western training, guidance and possibly leadership. Within four months of American announcements that US Special Operations Forces were providing training to opposition groups in camps in Jordan, the opposition groups suddenly have become tactically more effective. The targets of some of their attacks are more harmful to the Damascus regime and some groups have greater ability to coordinate their attacks.
These are the effects of superior outside military involvement. These same opposition groups fumbled around for 18 months with no significant impact on the stability of the regime. The US is involved in the fight, probably with special forces inside advising selected rebel groups.
The regime is falling back, trying to find a line it can hold. That presumably is the corridor from Damascus to Latakia, the Alawite homeland.
As noted above, policy choices have consequences. Should the Alawite government fall, Syrian Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and other minorities will be killed and shrines destroyed. That is why the Syrian Kurds are opposing the Syrian opposition fighters and jihadists.
Phi Beta Iota: US aviation is vastly more vulnerable to the asymmetric threat than most may realize. As with CIA operations overseas that live immunity rather than cover or good security, US aviation has been getting a “pass” in most conflicts — especially Afghanistan — because other powers are smart enough to recognize that letting the USA waste blood, treasure, and spirit in a quagmire is better for them than any direct engagement. It is now “open season” on the USA. Clandestine Human Intelligence (HUMINT) must be truly clandestine, truly professional. Logistics has always been the Achilles heel of the over-weight and over-complicated US military, followed by its Industrial Era C4I. Rear area security — including security in Tampa, Florida and in Miami, Florida, is going to become a matter of life and death. Asymmetric warfare is entering a new global phase. The USA is not ready for it.