National Defence Force (Syria)

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National Defence Force
قوات الدفاع الوطني
National Defense Force SSI.svg
National Defence Force Syria Logo.jpg
Symbol of the NDF
Active 1 November 2012 – present
Country Syria
Allegiance Syrian Arab Republic
Branch Syrian Arab Army[1]
Type Infantry (militia)
National Guard
Role Reserve Army[2]
Size 80,000[3]–100,000[4]
Garrison/HQ 3002 Damascus, Syria (main HQ)
With elements in:
Aleppo Governorate
Hama Governorate
Latakia Governorate
Tartus Governorate
Homs Governorate
al-Hasakah Governorate
Damascus Governorate
As-Suwayda Governorate[4]
Equipment List of NDF equipment

Syrian Civil War:

2014 Daraa offensive
2014 Eastern Syria offensive
2014 Quneitra offensive

2014 Hama offensive
NDF flag Flag of the National Defense Force.svg

The National Defence Force (NDF; Arabic: قوات الدفاع الوطنيQuwat ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī) is branch of Syrian Armed Forces, formed after summer 2012[5] as a part-time volunteer reserve component of the Syrian military, organized by the Syrian government during the Syrian Civil War.[6]


By the beginning of 2013, Assad took steps to formalize and professionalize hundreds of Popular Committee militias under a new group dubbed the National Defence Forces.[5][7][8]

The goal was to form an effective, locally based, highly motivated force out of pro-government militias. The NDF, in contrast with the Shabiha forces, receives salaries and military equipment from the government.[9][10] Iran has contributed to establishing this new organization, which gathered together existing neighborhood militias into a functioning hierarchy and provided them with better equipment and training.[5]

Young and unemployed men join the NDF, which some see as more attractive than the Syrian Army, considered by many of them to be infiltrated by rebels, overstretched and underfunded. A number of recruits say they joined the group because members of their families had been killed by rebel groups. In some Alawite villages almost every military age male has joined the National Defence Force.[4]

Unlike the Syrian Army, NDF soldiers are allowed to take loot from battlefields, which can then be sold on for extra money.[9]


The force acts in an infantry role, directly fighting against rebels on the ground and running counter-insurgency operations in coordination with the army which provides them logistical and artillery support.

The NDF is projected as a secular force. For that reason, many of their members are drawn from Syrian minorities, such as Alawites, Christians, Druzes,[9] and Armenians.[11] According to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, the creation of the group has been successful, as it had played a crucial role in improving the military situation for the government forces in Syria from the 2012 summer, when many analysts predicted the downfall of Assad and his government.[4][12]

The force is reported to be 60,000-strong as of June 2013 and is set to grow to 100,000 (reached in August 2013).[4][13]

Units mostly operate in their local areas, although members can also choose to take part in army operations.[9][14] Others have claimed that the NDF does most of the fighting because NDF members, as locals, have a strong knowledge of the region.[14]

Women's Section[edit]

The force has a 500-strong women's wing called "Lionesses of National Defence", which operates checkpoints.[15] They are mainly deployed in the Homs area.[citation needed]

The women are trained to use Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns and grenades, and taught to storm and control checkpoints.[16]

Expanding role[edit]

Struggling with reliability and issues with defections, officers of the SAA increasingly prefer the part-time volunteer reserves of the NDF, who they regard as more motivated and loyal, over regular army conscripts to conduct infantry operations. Recently[when?] they've been used as support infantry to advancing armored units.[citation needed]

An officer in Homs, who asked not to be identified, said the army was increasingly playing a logistical and directive role, while NDF fighters act as combatants on the ground.[2]


The period of training can vary from 2 weeks to a month depending on whether an individual is being trained for basic combat, sniping, or intelligence.[9]

Suspected Iranian connection[edit]

The United States government has said that Syria's ally, Iran, is helping build the group on the model of its own Basij militia, with some members reportedly being sent for training in Iran.[17]


A member of the NDF has stated that "We have direct orders to collect whatever we want ... Our commanders tell us: 'The properties of your enemies are lawfully yours.' And then they take whatever they want as well."[18] Civilians in government held parts of Syria have complained of such abuses, with one stating "In areas under government control, there is no unified central command. They are ruled by a cluster of mafia-style gangs," which include the NDF.[19] The NDF has looted both pro-government and opposition areas, allegedly referring to the latter type of looting as the "Sunni market", as Sunnis are seen as a common target in pro-opposition territory that the Assad government has recaptured.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Pike (2012-12-11). "Syria - National Defence Forces (NDF)". Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  2. ^ a b "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  3. ^ ISIS’ Iraq offensive could trigger Hezbollah to fill gap left in Syria Daily Star, 16 June 2014
  4. ^ a b c d e "Syria's Alawite Force Turned Tide for Assad". Wall Street Journal. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Iranian Strategy in Syria, Institute for the Study of War, Executive Summary + Full report, May 2013
  6. ^ "SYRIA UPDATE: THE FALL OF AL-QUSAYR". Institute for the Study of War. Retrieved Jun 7, 2013. 
  7. ^ Michael Weiss (18 May 2013). "Rise of the Militias in Syria". Real Clear World. 
  8. ^ Lund, Aron (2013-08-27). "The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria". CTC Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-08-28. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. April 21, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  10. ^ Michael Weiss (17 May 2013). "Rise of the militias". NOW. 
  11. ^ Racha Abi Haidar (8 February 2014). "Armenians in Syria, After the Conflict". Al Akhbar. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Sly, Liz (May 12, 2013). "Assad forces gaining ground in Syria". Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Syria’s civil war: The regime digs in". The Economist. 15 June 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Glass, Charles (5 December 2013). "Syria: On the Way to Genocide?". 
  15. ^ Adam Heffez (28 November 2013). "Using Women to Win in Syria". Al-Monitor (Eylül). Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  16. ^ Sly, Liz (2013-01-25). "The all-female militias of Syria". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Aziz, Ghaith Abdel (October 13, 2014). "Joining Assad's Reserve Forces, For The Money". Worldcrunch. Retrieved October 13, 2014. We have direct orders to collect whatever we want," he says. "Our commanders tell us: 'The properties of your enemies are lawfully yours.' And then they take whatever they want as well. 
  19. ^ a b Sinjab, Lina. "Syria: Assad loyalists concerned by rise of paramilitaries". BBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 

External links[edit]