Damascus: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Tuesday said his country was in state of war and ordered his new cabinet to crush the anti-regime uprising.

Rebel forces and Syrian army units, meanwhile, engaged in deadly combat around elite Republican Guard posts in the suburbs of Damascus, as 116 people were killed across the country, a monitoring group said.

Amid mounting tensions in the anti-regime uprising now in its 16th month, Al Assad admitted that Syria is in a “real situation of war”. “When one is in a state of war, all our policies and capabilities must be used to secure victory,” he told the new cabinet, the official Sana news agency reported.

His remarks came as the United States on Tuesday said that a “desperate” Al Assad was slowly losing his grip on power, citing recent defections of army officers and soldiers to neighbouring Turkey and Jordan.

“Clearly, Bashar Al Assad has been slowly — too slowly — losing his grip over his country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Syria has been hit by deadly violence that has claimed more than 15,000 lives, monitors say, since an uprising erupted in March 2011 against Al Assad’s regime.

Al Assad, who has made rare public appearances since the uprising erupted, insists that his regime is battling “armed terrorist groups”.

On June 3 he told parliament of his determination to crush the rebellion “at any price”.

Western powers have repeatedly warned against a civil war in Syria.

On Saturday Al Assad issued a decree forming a new government, less than two months after controversial parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.