Syrian Rebels in Trouble: German Intelligence Sees Assad Regaining Hold
By Matthias Gebauer SPIEGEL ONLINE May 22, 2013
Not even a year ago, German intelligence predicted Syrian autocrat Bashar
Assad's regime would soon collapse. Now, the agency instead believes the
rebels are in trouble. Government troops are set to make significant
advances, it predicts.
Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND),
has fundamentally changed its view of the ongoing civil war in Syria.
SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that the BND now believes the Syrian military of
autocrat Bashar Assad is more stable than it has been in a long time and is
capable of undertaking successful operations against rebel units at will.
BND head Gerhard Schindler informed select politicians of the agency's new
assessment in a secret meeting.
It is a notable about-face. As recently as last summer, Schindler reported
to government officials and parliamentarians that he felt the Assad regime
would collapse early in 2013. He repeated the view in interviews with the
At the time, the BND pointed to the Syrian military's precarious supply
situation and large numbers of desertions that included members of the
officer core. German intelligence spoke of the "end phase of the regime."
Since then, however, the situation has changed dramatically, the BND
believes. Schindler used graphics and maps to demonstrate that Assad's
troops once again possess effective supply lines to ensure sufficient
quantities of weapons and other materiel. Fuel supplies for tanks and
military aircraft, which had proved troublesome, are once again available,
Schindler reported. The new situation allows Assad's troops to combat
spontaneous rebel attacks and even retake positions that were previously
lost. The BND does not believe that Assad's military is strong enough to
defeat the rebels, but it can do enough to improve its position in the
Severing Rebel Supply Lines
The assessment appears to be consistent with recent reports from Syria,
where government troops have been able to regain the upper hand in the
region stretching from Damascus to Homs, including coastal areas near Homs.
Furthermore, fighters loyal to Assad have expelled rebel fighters from
several districts on the edge of Damascus and cut off their supply lines to
the south. Currently, the regime is in the process of severing rebel supply
lines to the west.
Meanwhile, the BND believes that rebel forces, which include several groups
of Islamist fighters with ties to al-Qaida, are facing extreme difficulties.
Schindler reported that different rebel groups are fighting with each other
to attain supremacy in individual regions. Furthermore, regime troops have
managed to cut supply lines for weapons and evacuation routes for wounded
fighters. Each new battle weakens the militias further, the BND chief said.
Should the conflict continue as it has in recent weeks, says Schindler,
government troops could retake the entire southern half of the country by
the end of 2013. That would leave only the north for insurgent fighters,
where Kurdish rebels have tighten control over their areas.
Schindler's report on the state of the rebel groups allows little room for
hope that serious talks between the insurgents and the Assad regime will
take place soon. The BND says there is no functional chain of command
between opposition leaders abroad and the militias inside of Syria. The
fighters on the ground simply don't recognize the political leadership, says
The United Nations is currently doing all it can to encourage both sides to
engage in peace talks in Geneva, though no date has been set. German Foreign
Minister Guido Westerwelle is once again travelling to the Middle East on
Wednesday to plan for such negotiations.
At a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" in the Jordanian capital of Amman,
Westerwelle is set to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry among
others. But over the weekend, he sought to lower expectations, saying that
it isn't clear yet whether the Assad regime is even prepared to engage in