Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Endgame: Syria Updates the Civil War

Robert Rath | 12 Sep 2013 12:00
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endgame syria military phase

They won. They also destroyed a cultural site, losing me Support.

And it wasn't just that one time, either. The genie was well and truly out of the bottle. The more Iranians and Artillery that got thrown at me, the more I had to rely on foreign fighters and Street Fighting. Worse, the longer the war dragged on the more radical cards I pulled. Now instead of choosing between Infantry and Militants, I was choosing between Mujahideen and Assassination, both units that cost me Support and killed civilians - but far fewer than the Regime was killing. My desperate enemies had resorted to using Sarin, Scuds and the radical PFLP GC. As civilian casualties mounted, it became easier for me to justify using Jihadi units. After all, if I could throw everything I had at the Regime for two turns without worrying about civilian deaths, I reasoned, I could end the war and save more lives in the long run. Strangely, this justification isn't much different from some pro-US airstrike arguments I've heard this week.

I won, if you can call it that. Toppling Assad led to Syria breaking up like Yugoslavia. Assad's Alawite minority and the Kurds split off in their own regions. Religious and ethnic hatreds that boiled over during the fighting lead to a sectarian conflict. The international nature of the war caused regional clashes in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Turkey for years afterward. I got this result twice, even though I consciously tried to mitigate civilian suffering on my second playthrough. Curious what would happen if I never deployed military units at all, I tried diplomacy alone and got crushed.

My best outcome by far came from playing defense in the Military phase and offense in Diplomacy. I restricted myself to native Syrian units - along with some tactics like Comms and Cutting Oil Pipelines - to stall the Regime on the battlefield while coalition-building like hell in the Diplomacy phase. That led to a peace deal that landed me in a power-sharing agreement, sparing most of the civilian population, but meant letting some of Assad's units steamroll my troops on occasion rather than resort to the more experienced foreigners - though that also meant the conflict never escalated to sieges and Sarin gas.

This balancing act is the crux of Endgame: Syria's argument: that the longer the civil war drags on, the more the Regime will rely on heavier units, assistance from Iran, and chemical weapons to crush the Rebels. This extreme pressure, in turn, will make the Rebels increasingly rely on foreign militants to survive - destabilizing the country and drawing the region further into the conflict. "The consequences of using foreign fighters ... is it makes it more likely that you'll lose the peace even if you win the war," sums up Rawlings. The game emphasizes that the Syrian civil war is not a war between two sides but a conflict playing out between multiple factions and various regional powers. "The rebels are not a monolithic entity - nor is the regime, they are collections of interests being backed by other collections of interests."

It's a fair assessment, supported by fact. The Syrian rebels weren't homogenous, even before foreign interests started piling into their ranks. Some were Syrian Kurds hoping for greater autonomy. Others were radical domestic militants that Assad had cracked down on for years. Still more were moderate secularists, and some of the so-called "foreign" Jihadists who formed the Al-Nusra Front were actually Syrians returning after fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq. On the other side, Assad's forces aren't just the military but also his Iranian allies, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Counsel.

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