Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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National and World

November 13, 2012

Despite rebel deal, Syria can keep up the fight

BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly 20 months into the Syrian uprising, President Bashar Assad's message to the world has been nothing if not consistent: His military is strong, his enemies are mere terrorists and he will prevail in the end.

And despite a unity deal signed by Syrian rebels this weekend, which they hope will persuade foreign backers to send more powerful weapons to use to battle the regime, Damascus still has enough firepower and resources to keep up the fight.

"Syria has more than enough weapons for fighting the rebels," said Igor Korotchenko, a retired colonel of Russia's military general staff who is now editor of National Defense magazine. "As long as Bashar Assad has the money to pay his military, it will keep fighting."

He said Syria has more than 1,000 tanks, along with a system of repair shops created during Soviet times and enough experienced personnel to service the weapons.

Analysts say it is difficult to come up with reliable figures on the Syrian air force and air defenses because of the extreme secrecy surrounding its military matters. Assad's regime — its forces stretched thin on multiple fronts — has significantly increased its use of air power against Syrian rebels since the summer.

For now, government jets and helicopters are largely out of reach of the rebels' arsenals, and Assad projects confidence at every turn. In an interview last week with Russia Today TV, Assad vowed to "live and die" in Syria, saying the conflict will never drive him into exile.

Still, the regime cannot maintain the status quo indefinitely.

A Mideast intelligence official said Syria's estimated 300 jet fighters — mostly Russian-made — lack the appropriate maintenance, spare parts and missile warheads. Syria's estimated three dozen helicopters, also mostly Russian-made, are being "exhausted from overuse," he said.

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