Throughout Sunday, we tried to pin down the story over the regime offensive in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.
The weekend headline was “advance” with a significant military and symbolic breakthrough for Syrian forces, as they claimed the capture of the 12th-century Khalid Ibn Walid Mosque in insurgent-held Khalidiya. However, the supposed control appeared to be far from complete in videos and some accounts — heavy fighting continued around the mosque complex, and it was uncertain how much of the area the regime forces had locked down.
The situation is still not clear this morning. Perhaps more importantly — whether or not the Syrian military holds the mosque — the wider story is being missed.
First, even if they have not quelled the insurgents near the complex, the regime has made strides in its offensive by taking much of Khalidiya. We have been careful about proclaiming success for the offensive, in part because we did not want to rely on State media and suspect if widely-quoted outlets, in part because of the simplicity of the narrative that President Assad had turned the corner to victory; however, the Syrian military’s inroads into the neighborhood is now established.
Second, and in significant contrast, that does not mean “victory” for the Syrian military, even in the quest to regain control of all of Homs. Fighting will probably continue in Khalidiya, and there are other districts to be taken.
EA sources and a well-placed correspondent believe that the regime will eventually reclaim the entire city, but the process may take some time and it may have been at a high cost in personnel and armaments.
Third and most important, Homs is not defining “victory” for the regime. It is not even, contrary to the headlines in much of the media yesterday, one-sided “advance”.
That is because other major battles have been taking place in the last eight weeks. If the Syrian military has finally progressed in Homs, the insurgency has taken key points in Aleppo Province, reinforcing its siege of Syria’s largest city, and controls almost all the territory around Idlib city.
Of course, that does not mean a counter-narrative of “victory” for the insurgents — not with the fighting in Kurdistan between the insurgency and Kurdish militia, the weakness of the central command of the Free Syrian Army, the on-going muddle over foreign supply of arms, let alone the difficulty of taking a city rather than just surrounding it. While the regime is struggling to control the suburbs of Damascus, no one should expect President Assad and his inner circle to be fleeing the capital in the near-future.
However, the stories beyond Homs do reinforce the idea that this is a war of attrition, rather than sharp, sudden victory. The regime has won one partial — very partial — grinding fight in a part of one district of Homs, but it faces the grind in many other locations across Syria.
(FEATURED PHOTO: Khalidiya in Homs, with the Khalid Ibn Walid Mosque in the left foreground)