One of the key battles in Syria is for control of Qusayr, currently under rebel control. Via NY Times, Syrian Forces and Hezbollah Fighters Press Assault on Key City:
Official Syrian and Hezbollah news outlets said the government offensive was making rapid headway in retaking Qusayr, a strategically situated city in Homs Province, near the Lebanese border. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said government troops had expanded their control from the eastern part of the city into the center and the north, destroying tunnels, weapons and explosive devices. The agency said a commander of Al Nusra Front, an extremist rebel group that the United States says is a terrorist organization, was killed in the fighting.
But the rebels, though outgunned, said they were holding their ground against the onslaught, had destroyed several armored vehicles and had inflicted heavy casualties on the army. They said they would fight on.
It’s hard to know what really is going on, but there are reliable reports of heavy Hezbollah casualties. While each side boasts huge victories, it appears to be turning into a war of attrition, with rebels dug in and receiving at least some reinforcements.
NOW Lebanon, which I’ve found to be one of the more reasoned sources, says that Hezbollah is not meeting it’s vaunted reputation in the fighting, and may be stalled, Hezbollah slips in Qusayr:
As it became clear that the Syrian opposition was putting up fierce resistance, Hezbollah began adjusting its story about the battle for al-Qusayr. The group was now making it known that it was sending in reinforcements from its elite units, and that the fighting might last at least another week. More troublesome for Hezbollah, however, was the news about the severe losses its units were sustaining, with casualty numbers ranging from 30 to 40 dead after the first day of fighting alone. By Tuesday, Syrian activists in al-Qusayr were claiming another 25 dead Hezbollah fighters. This, of course, is not counting those who had been killed prior to the latest assault, going back to last year. The number and make-up of the casualties raise some interesting questions about Hezbollah’s fighting force post-2006….
If the casualty rate stays this high even for another week, it could prove devastating. For instance, according to a party official who spoke to the Kuwaiti al-Rai, many of those killed on the first day in al-Qusayr were cut down by landmines and IED’s prepared by the Syrian rebels. A Lebanese source who follows the group closely says that a company of 200 Hezbollah fighters attempted the initial assault but ran into the hidden explosive devices, resulting in the high death toll. The source reveals that the Syrians received assistance from certain Palestinian factions in planning the defense of the town.
Already, prior to the latest onslaught on al-Qusayr, Hezbollah’s former secretary general, Subhi Tofeyli, stated that the group had lost 138 members in Syria. Shapira believes that “from the hundreds” they have deployed, “they have lost over 200. Some are commanders, over 30-35 years of age.” As many as 65 – ten percent of the total lost in the 2006 war – were killed in just two days of fighting.
There’s another key issue to consider: Even if in the end Hezbollah manages to take the town, it remains unclear who would hold it….
By publicly taking the lead in the assault operations in Syria, Hezbollah was to show its military capability to decisively and swiftly win battles – first in al-Qusayr, then on other fronts in the country. The problem for Iran, however, is that, regardless what happens next in al-Qusayr, the performance of Hezbollah’s elite forces is signaling the opposite of the message Iran sought to communicate.
The Hezbollah role in Syria also is causing spillover sectarian violence in Tripoli, Lebanon, with the threat to spread more generally. There are numerous reports of dissent even within the Lebanese Shiite community about Hezbollah’s role in Syria and its service of Iranian interests, and that is being exploited by Hezbollah’s political enemies.
If sectarian terror in the form of car bombs and suicide bombings comes to Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah’s actions in Syria, who knows what will happen. It could set Lebanon on fire.
Hezbollah has thrown its military, reputation, and goodwill into Qusayr, but unless something changes very quickly, Qusayr may turn into Hezbollah’s Stalingrad.DONATE
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