In his first public address in a year, embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Sunday to win his country’s long-running civil war while acknowledging his troops had given up control of some territory.
Assad tried to justify why the Syrian army has given up some areas of Syria, including the northwestern city of Idlib.
“There is a lack of human resources … Everything is available [for the army], but there is a shortfall in human capacity,” Assad said.
He said it was due to military priorities.
“It was necessary to specify critical areas for our armed forces to hang on to. Concern for our soldiers forces us to let go of some areas,” he said.
“Every inch of Syria is precious.”
“The idea that we were going to win all battles everywhere at the same time is unrealistic, impossible and not doable,” said Mr. Assad
Syria’s army once had around 300,000 members, but it has been significantly reduced in size by deaths, defections, and a rise in draft dodging.
A day earlier, Assad declared an amnesty for draft-dodgers and deserters.
The Syrian leader said the army did not have the manpower to defend the entire country, especially as rebel groups were receiving increased support from outside – a reference to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The army has been forced in recent months to withdraw from large parts of the northwestern province of Idlib in the face of an assault by a coalition of Islamist brigades and was unable to defend the desert city of Palmyra in central Syria, when it was overrun by Islamic State.
Some diplomats say the army is now focused on defending strategic areas like Damascus, Homs and strongholds of Assad’s minority Alawite sect in coastal areas.
With no end in sight to the war, the Syrian army’s manpower shortages have surfaced in recent months by growing reliance on recruitment in loyalist militias in state-controlled provinces, where those volunteering are offered lucrative pay.
In recent weeks, the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah has also played a more visible role in fighting radical Syrian insurgents in the battle for Qalamoun and nearby Syrian city of Zabadani, located in a mountainous region bordering Lebanon and close to the Syrian capital.
The president also thanked his allies — notably Iran — while taking the West to task for supporting “terrorists,” the Syrian government’s standard term for the armed opposition fighting to wrest control of the country.