The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, July 26, 2015.
SANA / AP
Syria’s embattled president admits military shortage
President Bashar al-Assad vows to win civil war while admitting military has lost territory because of troop shortage
July 26, 201510:19AM ET
In his first public address in a year, embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed Sunday to win his country's long-running civil war while acknowledging his troops have lost territory because of a manpower shortage.
Assad's speech, while confident, came in the fifth year of a conflict pitting his forces against rebels and hard-line groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Turkey, which has long backed the rebels, has begun striking ISIL and Kurdish fighters battling the group, adding a layer of complexity to a brutal war with no end in sight.
Assad's speech, televised Sunday morning, given to local dignitaries in the Syrian capital, Damascus, was his first public address since he was sworn in for a third, seven-year term in July last year. Assad has given interviews to several Arab and international media outlets in the meantime.
Assad acknowledged that his generals have had to move forces from one front to another in order to protect areas that are militarily, politically or economically important. He added that the loss of some areas to rebels has led to "frustration" among Syrians.
Those losses could be partially offset by greater support from the government's key ally, Iran, now that Tehran has agreed to a nuclear deal with world powers that would see international sanctions lifted.
"We are not collapsing. We are steadfast and will achieve victory," said Assad, who was interrupted several times by applause. "Defeat does not exist in the dictionary of the Syrian Arab army."
He tried to justify the loss of some areas, including Idlib. Government-allied forces, including fighters from the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and Iranian advisers, control a little less than half of Syria's 71,400 square miles.
"It was necessary to specify critical areas for our armed forces to hang on to," Assad said. "Concern for our soldiers forces us to let go of some areas."
"When we concentrate our forces in an important area, what happens is that we bring reinforcements, but this is usually at the expense of other areas," he said. "Sometimes we have to abandon some areas in order to transfer these forces to the area that we want to hold."
"There is a shortage of manpower," Assad said. "I don't want to give a dark image that hostile media will use to say that the president is saying that people are not joining the army."
He said that in recent months, mostly in April and May, the number of people joining the army has increased. He added, "Every inch of Syria is precious."
The government announced a general amnesty for army deserters and draft dodgers Saturday. There are thousands of army deserters in and outside Syria, many of whom have gone on to fight with rebels. Many young men have fled the country to avoid military conscription.
Assad has issued similar amnesties for criminals but has not released any of the thousands of political prisoners believed to be in Syria's prisons.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently reported that at least 49,100 troops and 32,500 pro-government gunmen have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
The group, which gathers information from activists in Syria, says there are some 70,000 draft dodgers in government-controlled areas alone.
Last month Syria's prime minister called on young men to fulfill their mandatory military service obligation, promising better pay for troops on the front lines as well as one hot meal a day.
Assad said his government did not want war "but when it was imposed on us, the Syrian Arab army repelled the terrorists everywhere." He refers to all those fighting his rule as terrorists.
The U.S. has begun training some moderate rebels who oppose Assad, but hard-line groups have had the most success against his forces. ISIL holds about a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq in its self-declared caliphate.
Speaking about political dialogue, Assad said any initiative that is not based on fighting "terrorism" would be "hollow" and "meaningless."