Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed in his first public speech in a year that his forces would eventually prevail in the bloody conflict that has gripped the country for five years, even as the regime seeks more troops to help fight.
In a televised speech on Sunday morning, Assad admitted to a "shortage of manpower" as his government fights on multiple fronts with both Islamic State (IS) militants and other rebel groups that have seized control of several key areas of the country.
"We are not collapsing. We are steadfast and will achieve victory," Assad said, according to the Associated Press. "Defeat does not exist in the dictionary of the Syrian Arab army."
Assad addressed a room full of dignitaries in Damascus, who often interrupted him with applause. The Syrian leader addressed how the army was fighting in multiple areas, and had retreated along some fronts. Major sections of the country have fallen under IS control, including the city of Idlib and the historic city of Palmyra.
"It was necessary to specify critical areas for our armed forces to hang on to," Assad said, referencing territory lost to insurgents. "Concern for our soldiers forces us to let go of some areas."
He acknowledged the losses have led to "frustration" among Syrian residents, adding "every inch of Syria is precious."
"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," Assad said. "Sometimes we have to abandon some areas in order to transfer these forces to the area that we want to hold."
Assad also said recruiting and retaining troops had been an issue as the country's conflict stretches into its fifth year, but he accused the international media of overstating the situation. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, at least 70,000 men have avoided military service throughout the country.
"There is a shortage of manpower," Assad said. He added that, "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."
Assad's government also announced amnesty for those who have dodged being drafted into the army, or who have deserted from the military during fighting. The regime has also claimed that there has been an increase in men signing up for the military in recent months.
According to SOHR, approximately 80,000 soldiers and pro-government militiamen have died since the beginning of the conflict in Syria.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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