The revised estimates compiled by US and French intelligence agencies on the relative strength of Syrian government and rebel forces have given Washington and Arab capitals backing the Syrian opposition pause. The Obama administration has built its policies around an estimated 70,000 rebel fighters, whereas the revised figure, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, appears to be less than half – around 30,000. With some 3,000 jihadis, Al Qaeda-linked groups make up around one-tenth of total rebel strength.
Officials in Washington and Paris are trying to play down the revised estimates because it throws out the basic premise of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy that Bashar Assad can’t last more than six months against the rebel offensive. US military experts now admit, albeit without attribution, that the overall balance of strength – and not just the numbers – has radically changed in the Assad regime’s favor, due to direct Iranian military input: Military advisers of the elite Al Qods Brigades are conducting crash combat courses for the 70,000- strong pro-Assad Alawite militia and sections of the Syrian army still loyal to the ruler.
This qualitative injection into Assad’s military sources will substantially extend the life expectancy of his regime.