Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to win his country’s long-running civil war while acknowledging his troops are struggling to maintain control over territory amid lack of manpower.
In a televised speech on Sunday before local dignitaries in Damascus, the embattled president tried to justify why the Syrian army has given up some areas of Syria, including the northwestern city of Idlib. 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,” he added.
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.
“There is a lack of human resources” in the army, Assad said.
“But that doesn’t mean we can talk about collapse,” he added. “We will resist… the armed forces are capable of defending the motherland.”
The Syrian army has faced a series of battlefield setbacks since March: It lost most of the northwestern province of Idlib to a rebel alliance including the Syrian al-Qaeda branch, the Nusra Front, and important areas of the southern border region to mainstream groups of the “Southern Front”.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group also seized the central city of Palmyra from the Syrian military in May.
In the speech, Assad also said he supported any political dialogue to end his country’s conflict, even if its effects are limited. But he added that any initiative that is not based on fighting “terrorism” will be “hollow” and “meaningless”.
He said groups fighting to topple him had received increased backing from their state sponsors, in a reference to countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera