Urban-rural stalemate forms in Syria conflict

(CBS News) In Syria on Thursday, the International Red Cross tried to evacuate civilians and the wounded from the battered city of Homs, but they never got the chance. A promised cease-fire never happened.

The city came under renewed shelling that residents blamed on the Syrian army. The Red Cross convoy had to turn back to Damascus.

Homs is at the center of the 16-month uprising against the dictator, Bashar al-Assad. He's out to crush it, and thousands have died.

Now, some of Assad's soldiers are joining the rebels, and on Thursday a Syrian air force pilot took himself and his plane out of the fight. The pilot defected and landed his MiG jet fighter at an airfield in Jordan.

It's only a small crack in the Assad regime's determination to crush its opponents, but one that Pentagon spokesman George Little praised.

"We very much welcome the pilot's decision to do the right thing," Little said.

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The opposition has no jets but relies instead on classic guerrilla tactics -- fighters strike then melt away into the countryside. They are becoming increasingly better equipped thanks to weapons and money supplied by Arab countries hostile to Assad.

Estimated to number about 40,000, the insurgents have fought the 200,000-strong Syrian military with its tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships to a standstill.

The regime controls the major cities running from the capital of Damascus to the Turkish border while rebels control large parts of the countryside.

Joseph Holliday, a former Army intelligence officer now with the Institute for the Study of War, has been tracking the rebels' progress.

"You have a sort of urban-rural stalemate in which the opposition can control and operate in the countryside of Syria, while the regime has maintained its grip on the cities themselves," Holliday said.

The opposition consists of roughly 100 different groups, and as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Charlie Rose on "CBS This Morning," the U.S. is trying to organize them into a more unified force.

"We're also working very hard to try to prop up and better organize the opposition. We've spent a lot of time on that. It's still a work in progress," Clinton said.

The U.S. is not providing weapons to the insurgents, but the CIA has begun advising other countries about which opposition groups should receive arms and money.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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