The Syrian freedom fighters on Sunday succeeded in breaking through the building of the Army Staff Command in the heart of Damascus. Two weeks earlier they attacked the heavily guarded headquarters of the same military establishment. This was preceded by the most important operation, when the freedom fighters reached the National Security Building and attacked the meeting hall, where high-ranking military and intelligence personnel were meeting.
These kinds of repeated operations reveal two things: The increasing power of the Free Syrian Army and how the regime has been penetrated from inside. Some commanders and privates volunteer to help the freedom fighters against the regime in various parts of Syria. When President Bashar Assad, to reassure his followers during his last TV speech, said that he was talking from inside the Republican Palace in Damascus — i.e., he was not hiding as had been rumored — he was probably telling the truth. However, any place behind the walls of the palace is no longer safe. The ministers and senior officials of the regime have completely disappeared except through old archive photos broadcast repeatedly by the media.
The war game has been reversed. The forces of the regime are no longer pursuing the freedom fighters. On the contrary, the freedom fighters are now chasing the regime’s soldiers in organized and well-planned battles. The brigades of the Free Syrian Army have simultaneously attacked the Syrian border crossings and occupied them all with the exception of a single crossing with Iraq in the Kurdish area. The border crossings of al-Bukamal, al-Yacoubiyyah, Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salama have all fallen to the freedom fighters, who aim to strangle the regime by cutting the fuel and military supplies coming from Iran and Iraq.
In the north, the freedom fighters are in control of the borders and they are granting travelers entry visas just like any legitimate government. Their grip extends to the borders of Aleppo. They also try to strangle the regime internally by cutting oil supply lines. They are not attacking the fuel sources, such as electricity stations or refineries, but the pipelines.
The Free Army, which does not have missiles or ground defense systems, has suffered immense losses as a result of the use of fighters and helicopters by the regime’s armed forces. The airstrikes have displaced more than half a million people from their towns and the villages. For these reasons, the Free Army changed its tactics and is now attacking airports, airfields and military training colleges. The freedom fighters simultaneously attacked Abu Zuhour air base in Idlib, al-Bukamal air defense base in Deir ez-Zor and Rasm al-Oboud training base in Aleppo, which was used by air college students for training. They made unsuccessful attempts to control important air bases in Damascus and Aleppo, but were able to stop these air bases from functioning.
Through the plan to close down borders, which succeeded in suffocating the regime on the land, and through the attacks against airports, air bases and weapon stores, the world came to know that even after using air raids, heavy artillery and tanks, the Assad forces failed to halt the advance of the Free Syrian Army.
The freedom fighters are aware that the downfall of Damascus will automatically mean the collapse of the regime. They did not succeed in their first attempt, but they will surely try again within their plan codenamed “Damascus Volcano and Syria’s Earthquake.” It seems the freedom fighters will make Damascus their target during the next few weeks as they are able to use the missiles and the anti-aircraft weapons they recently obtained.
Politically, Assad and his allies are weaker now than in the past. The Russians, who until recently confirmed that the regime was strong and asked people not to worry about the fate of the regime, are not able to make these utterances anymore.
(Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in Arab News on Sept. 4, 2012)