Early Sunday morning, the war in Syria took a new turn when forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and large numbers of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon launched a major offensive to retake the Syrian town of Qusair. The ferocious battle, which continues to rage on, goes a long way in explaining some of the strategy and tactics currently dominating the conflict.
In times of peace, the western city Qusair was not a particularly large or important one. The town’s population, which has fluctuated with the civil war, has ranged between 30,000 and 40,000. In recent weeks, however, the significance of Qusair has increased, highlighting the strategic thinking of the regime and its allies in Iran and Lebanon.
It’s no coincidence that Qusair is the place where Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, made its presence most strongly felt. By some accounts, Hezbollah fighters led the offensive. And it was with regard to the Qusair campaign that a U.S. official confirmed charges, long made by anti-Assad forces, that Iran has sent soldiers to fight on Assad’s side in Syria.