LONDON: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government can only count on the loyalty of 50,000 troops, down from a total of 220,000 at the start of the country's civil war, an analysis has found.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said the regime is now reliant on elite units.
''The cumulative effect of defections, desertions, battlefield losses and damage to morale will weigh heavily in determining the outcome of the conflict,'' John Chipman the institute's director-general said on Thursday.
Weakening resolve: Syrian rebels and civilians gather around the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet which was shot down at Daret Ezza. Photo: AFP
The two-year Syrian conflict has killed more than 70,000 people and the UN said this month more than 1 million refugees had fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries.
Rebel forces are being hampered by lack of co-ordination as much as by lack of weapons, said Brigadier Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the institute, citing their failure to press a military advantage in Aleppo.
''The single greatest weakness of the rebels is the lack of political and military unity,'' Brigadier Barry said.
Up in flames: A man tries to extinguish a fire after shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Photo: Reuters
The collapse of the regime would lead to widespread instability in the region, the institute said. The country could also become a training ground for Islamist militants, exporting fighters and weapons used in the conflict around the region.
Syria could ''become a crucible for a new generation of trans national jihadists in the same way that the post-Soviet Afghanistan became one in the 1980s,'' said Nigel Inkster, formerly of Britain's MI6 intelligence service and now the institute's director of political risk.