Damascus has remained relatively untouched by the country’s insurgents. Its defense is rooted in Assad’s strategy, but aided by our uncoordinated policy.
Syria is unique because its center of gravity is not the people. Iraq ultimately failed in part due to our failure to capture the support of the people. We ignored the Sunnis in Fallujah and expelled the combat-hardened and trained Baathists. In Syria, the real epicenter is Damascus. While the revolution began outside of the capital, Damascus is the only place it can end. However, the Assad regime has successfully defended Damascus. It will be tough for rebels, or any force, to lay siege to Damascus. This war will not end anytime soon.
Similarly in Iraq, the Shia militias and Iraqi military defended Baghdad and its immediate area. It’s a different fight when it’s their home, and they have superior firepower. But the Syrian government has lost control of much of the country. The Northeast and Eastern parts of Syria are all but lost. Insurgents are springing up in villages around Syria amid a war economy that rewards strength in numbers. It is of the interest of many to join the fight. Because of that and overall sentiment South and West of Damascus is outside of their control, as well. Assad has lost 3/4 of his country.
Assad’s military strategy has been a successful one. Despite a stout and well-funded effort by third parties, the regime remains in control of Damascus. He forfeits rural lands and does not allow cities to be taken quickly. Furthermore, he doesn’t allow insurgents to occupy them for long. He devastates urban and populated areas with little remorse. The regime will crush cities that housed rebels days before a rebel offensive. They even break down their attacks to specific neighborhoods, indiscriminately killing anyone who is there. The chemical attacks are an example of their resolve not to allow the rebels to take urban areas. This tactic has proved efficient and behind the regime’s ability to stay in this fight for the long haul. But, by doing so, Assad has made himself a desolate war criminal and violator of human rights.