Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his regime’s recent battlefield setbacks were caused both by a shortage of manpower and the need to defend areas deemed more strategic and vital than others, in a rare public admission Sunday.

The speech appeared more than anything else an effort by Mr. Assad to boost the morale of his supporters and warn certain communities in regime-controlled areas about the perils of not contributing more to the regime’s defense.

“The army’s strength comes from its manpower and if we want the army to give its best then we must give the most of what we have,” said Mr. Assad at a gathering of trade and professional unions in Damascus, according to a transcript released by Syrian state media.

“If we want the army to operate at maximum strength then we must provide for all its manpower needs, everything else is available but there is a shortage in manpower because of the reason I mentioned.”

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