At last, the Free Syrian Army has altered its fighting strategy. The war it has waged over the past three years has not achieved it the success it desired, but instead resulted in widespread destruction of the areas which had been previously declared liberated under its control, especially in areas in the capital, Damascus, or in locations that are sensitive for the regime.
In fact, the FSA could not hold these areas in the end, even though they were classified as "incubating areas" for the FSA and the revolution in general. The FSA left them as afflicted areas and burnt the land as the regime would have wanted.
Dozens of disappointments have affected the Free Army’s morale since the fall of Baba Amr in Homs, followed by the army's entering Yabruod and ending up in Mleiha. Thus, the FSA's search for a new Stalingrad has remained an illusion.
It is high time a new strategy be adopted by opening battlefronts outside the incubating areas and using loyalist areas instead. Perhaps this could test the reactions of the regime and whether it would continue to pursue its scorched earth policy in areas that have embraced the Free Syrian Army.
Fighting in the oposition areas is not compatible with the principles of the military plans, making the military task seem more difficult. But at the same time the FSA constitutes a serious threat to the regime by taking away many of its weapons that were available to it for dealing with the threats emerging in hostile areas like planes, missiles and heavy artillery bombing. However, until now, this has remained mere assumption and guesswork, for those who know the regime believe that it will not hesitate in bombing any loyalist areas when it feels that there are important interests at stake.
It is true that the areas that embraced the FSA played a big role in supporting the revolution and giving a sense of its continuation and the possibility of its expansion to other areas. But the barbaric and destructive responses of the regime in dealing with these areas and the policy of collective punishment, as well as the strangulation, siege and the destruction of homes has had a huge affect on the FSA's incubating areas.
Firstly, it affected morale; consecutive defeats of the FSA led to doubts about the usefulness of armed resistance and the capabilities and competence of the battalion commanders.
Secondly, there has been a huge economic impact in terms of the loss of thousands of citizens' property and homes. The FSA was held responsible for these losses and thus the expression "a curse on both sides" has become familiar to a large group of people who were previously considered to be the most ardent supporters of the revolution.
The areas that the regime so far succeeded in keeping away from battle are likely to face a new reality, beyond missiles and car bombs, to become the center of the battlefield.
If the new strategy to reach and fight from within these areas becomes successful – and there are plenty of examples of areas that have entered the fighting, despite their classification as areas opposed to the FSA, like the Haqla quarter the adjacent to midan in Damascus – the residents of these areas will still not embrace the regime army. Many citizens consider their security as the responsibility of the state and the army, which explains the migration of large numbers of residents towards safer areas despite calls to stay and not give up their areas. Such large migration has been observed in the suburbs of Jaramana and Dwylah, whose borders have been affected by the battles, and which can explain an expression of no-confidence in the regime’s ability to protect them.
After more than three years of the outbreak of the revolution, Syrians know that the areas which their patrons hold are exposed to extensive looting and destruction, especially when they become areas of military operations. But the question is: Is it possible for people in "safe areas" to risk staying in these areas now? Can they bear the consequences and the results of this crazy war? Will the new strategy of the FSA change the balance of power, or just bring new disappointments?