The Geneva Syrian talks, like the President’s speech on Syria, have left out many things, but most importantly several inescapable truths about this conflict:
(i) At least 70 percent of the Syrian population is Sunni; Alawite Shiites, the power base of Bashar al-Assad, probably account for no more than 15 percent of the country. Although regime-loyal Sunni soldiers have probably been critical to Assad’s survival, the vast majority of Sunnis surely now hate the regime and Alawites.
(ii) The kill/casualty rates in this war favor the opposition—the regime ‘s forces are falling in larger numbers than are opposition fighters, who have a vastly larger pool of young men to draw from. The research done by Jeffrey White, the military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, gives a casualty rate (combining killed with wounded) of 213,000 combatants for the regime, compared to 90,000 for the opposition. Even if we assume that medical care is much better on the regime’s side, and more wounded regime soldiers retake the field, the opposition is still experiencing a significantly lower loss of men. This conjecture is backed up by the available killed-in-action figures, which as of late June, 2013, were, according to White, 13,539 dead rebel combatants, 2,518 unidentified and non-Syrian rebel fighters, and 2,015 defected soldiers and officers. Compare those figures the regime’s KIA: 25,407 regular soldiers, 17,311 combatants for regime-loyal popular defense committees and the irregular shabbiha units, plus an addition 169 Lebanese Hizbollah.
(iii) The killed/wounded rate has been rising steadily for the Alawite irregular forces, which now approaches the loss rate experienced by regular, primarily Alawite, military units. In other words, the regime has been drawing increasingly on young male Alawite irregulars for frontline combat duty.
(iv) This path is unsustainable for the regime unless it can significantly increase the kill/casualty rate for the opposition with much smaller losses for its forces. A protracted conflict always favors the opponent with a greater population to draw on; the Sunnis have a decisive advantage. The Alawites have used all of the conventional weaponry at their disposal—with the exception of napalm—as aggressively as they possibly could and the opposition has taken it and inflicted ever-higher casualty rates on the Alawites.