One of our readers asked me in a comment about the difference between the “militias” and the National Defense Forces. (قوات الدفاع الوطني). Before we discuss that, we need to address the structure of the Syrian army to understand why militias were even needed. A helpful background support would be knowledge of the Ba’ath Party’s own structure and Internal Organization. (النظام الداخلي).
The Syrian Arab Army is built around 4 army corps, each with 3 fully mechanized armored divisions of Soviet army size. (11,000-13,000). The first 3 army corps are stationed according to clear strategic needs. The First Army Corpالفيلق الأول is stationed in the Damascus area. It actually contains 4 army divisions if one includes the elite 4th Mechanized Armored Division commanded by Major General Maaher Al-Assad. Interestingly, the 4th Division is not under direct MoD command but is quite independent of that seeing that its normal role is domestic security. The same is true of the Republican Guard. One distinction here is that the 4th Division has the ability to fight in all parts of Syria while the Republican Guard is limited to defending the capital.
Maher Al-Assad listens to a speech. He is described as “fiery-tempered” by critics. He is, however, to their eternal chagrin, a brilliant field commander who is adored by his soldiers.
The 2nd Army Corps is located around the Homs area while the 3rd is north of that in Idlib. The 4th Army Corps was created just before the retirement of Lt. Gen. Mustafa Tlas as Defense Minister but has been less a focus of enhancement than the first 3. The 4th Army Corps is located west of Aleppo as of January 2011.
Other services like the Air Defense Command, Air Force, Navy and Sea Defense forces make up the rest of Syria’s military. Of note is the fact that there are 11 independent Special Forces regiments based out of the hq at Al-Qutayfa, just northwest of Damascus. These special forces are jump-certified and cross-over as paratroops. Syrian SF follow the training regimen of the Russian SF.
Syria has reserve forces reportedly in excess of 500,000, but, that has neither been proved nor has it been reliably tested. The total standing force of the Syrian military is 375,000 soldiers.
When the March 2011 unrest started in Der’ah, the Syrian military was trained strictly for confronting a foreign invasion such as one emanating from the Zionist State. The anti-insurgency forces were the Republican Guard, the 4th Mechanized Armored Division, the 11 or so security agencies, police forces and the Ba’ath Party Youth Militias and the People’s Forces led by Abu Al-Nadaa (as of 1983). Other militias also existed as part of a “back-up” for General Security, Political Security, Air Force Intelligence and so forth. While it was clear that the Ba’ath Youth Militia was trained as a military force to support the army in the event of open war with the Zionist enemy, the other militias operated more as intelligence gatherers and tools for investigation.
The western media tries to portray our militias as “sectarian” in character, forgetting that 80% of these groups are Sunni Muslims who have a secular political outlook.
I joined the Ba’ath Party in 1981 and had the pleasure of knowing many young men and women who were a part of the “Shabiba” system. I have written two article before about this subject but it is apparent that the propagandists for NATO do not read alternative media sources – some of which happen to have direct experience with and knowledge of Syrian militias. No matter; the Shabiba (not Shabbiha as it is pejoratively couched) are by definition young people who receive both political and military training as part of their membership in the Ba’ath Party. Starting out at a young age, it is similar to the Boy Scouts where boys and girls hike, exercise, camp, and learn about the rudiments of Arab Nationalism, socialism and the need to repel the forces of imperialism and Zionism. (For a more accurate explanation of why the Shabiba is called Shabbiha, Zoogle it on this blog).
As the youth in the Shabiba get older, they are vetted and tested for loyalty. Those who pass the loyalty and health examinations received more advanced paramilitary training prior to their induction in the armed forces. Syria has compulsory military service which can only be avoided by obtaining a deferment for college education or proof of “only-son” status.
The actual number of militia members before March 2011 is not known. I will only estimate their number based on my experience in Syria and my reading of events. It is not meant to be taken as authoritative. My estimate is 40,000 between the ages of 16-40. Many militia members have already served in the army and act as drill instructors for newly admitted militia candidates.
The importance of these irregular forces cannot be underestimated. In fact, the rise of the NDF is proof of how much the Syrian army has come to rely on these “surge” forces. During the early days of the Islamist insurrection in Syria, neither the security services nor the two elite military divisions had much trouble containing the revolt. The 4th Division was extremely mobile, often appearing in Idlib one day and then in Aleppo another. The Republican Guard was a ubiquitous feature of the Damascus defense spectrum. But all that changed as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, recognizing the paltry threat posed by the FSA, began to pay out billions of dollars for foreign terrorists to come and fight in the preposterously named “Jihad” in Syria. Today, some estimate that the number of foreign Jihadists in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon exceeds 100,000! I doubt this number, but admit it is high.
You don’t want to mess around with these dames, fellas. They carry guns and they know how to use them. They are also obsessed with keeping Syria progressive and secular.
All my readers know that as the MoD used the regular army more and more to supplement the security forces, the Syrian General Staff (SGS) also realized that they were compromising the front against the Zionist Entity. Moreover, there was a risk in using army regulars some of whom operated with less discipline than others, sometimes selling their rifles to insurgent terrorists. Syrian army grunts, like their American counterparts, don’t get paid much for military service and their poverty can be exploited.
As the insurgency grew, there was a greater need to hold territory liberated by the SAA. This was a problem that emanated directly from NATO’s strategy of “enervating” the SAA by constantly having terrorist units pop up where the SAA was not. When the SAA would follow the new emergence of terrorists, other terrorists would quickly return to the same “liberated” area to harry our troops. In addition to this, the terrorists were instructed to destroy as much infrastructure as possible. So, when the SAA would return to a town or area it had cleansed, it would find electricity lines torn, oil reservoirs and water resources destroyed.
The SGS understood the NATO strategy. Thus, Generals Al-Furayj and Ayoub, decided in middle 2012 that the SAA would “permit” terrorist occupation in outlying areas while consolidating the SAA hold on the most critical commercial centers in the country. In order to keep these centers functioning, the SAA had to clear out connective villages and towns along the major thoroughfares. This was important for commerce and for the movement of the SAA. But, it is also known that once the army had stabilized a region, there would be a move into the less developed areas of the country: hence, the movement of troops toward Al-Raqqa.
The Ba’ath Party militia simply were not enough to hold as much territory as the SAA was intending to clear. Enter the NDF. Trained nowhere nearly as well as the militia and having no experience in intelligence gathering, citizens from all walks of life were invited to volunteer for military training to help the SAA and militia to hold territory in neighborhoods, villages and towns all along areas designated by the MoD as critical to the functioning of the state. What was amazing was that women were quick to jump in and give their full support. Also, volunteers started coming in from Lebanon – which is one explanation for the FSA canard about Hizbollah joining the fighting.
Training for the NDF had to be quick and very intense. Women who had never shot a rifle were given a baptism of fire as they mastered the AK47, communication systems and signal sciences. They were taught security techniques – how to remain together as a unit – not to separate and become hostages in the hands of Qatari savages, for example. NDF were trained to secure streets and react promptly when citizens alerted them to the presence of NATO-backed terrorist rodents. They were trained to work with the police as support.
The militias were now free to follow the SAA and participate in actual combat. Once an area was cleared, militia might remain to conduct intelligence gathering. But once that was over, local NDF operatives were handed the job of maintaining order and keeping the areas vermin-free. They have acquitted themselves brilliantly and with real commitment. This is why our army is now grinding the NATO terrorist rats into dust. This is why Russia knows the tide has turned radically in favor of the SAA. Ziad