A few days ago, C.J. Chivers wrote a fascinating report in the New York Times about how the Syrian opposition has taken to manufacturing–and using–bombs or improvised explosive devices (I.E.D.s). This strategy has proven extremely effective and Assad’s army is struggling to find solutions. On his website, Chivers expanded on this point:
Once the armed opposition mastered the I.E.D. and spiked with bombs much of the very ground that any military seeking to control Syria must cover, and Syria’s army lacked a deep bench of well-trained explosive ordnance disposal teams and the suites of electronic and defensive equipment for its vehicles to survive, then the end was written. Because the Syrian army is fucked. And its troop must know it.
While this is a remarkable turn of events after the past few months, it should not really come as a big surprise for students of civil war, conflict, and counter-insurgency operations (COIN). Once the insurgents gain the proper tools, as the Syrian rebels have, COIN becomes difficult to pursue effectively, regardless of the identity of the state in the incumbent position.
The question then shifts, instead, to how long the incumbent will last. This is where the political science of COIN becomes more inexact (though much good work–too much to cite fully here–does exist). If the United States, with its strategic know-how and material capability, struggles with these campaigns, it is not to difficult to imagine how Syria will perform. As Chivers notes, the Syrian army lacks much of the capability that would have made them effective counter-insurgents. For this reason, even though the army is likely to continue its lethal dose of violence for the foreseeable future, it now seems as if, thanks at least in part to these I.E.D.s, the effectiveness of this violence has an expiration date.
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