|Syrian Arab Army
الجيش العربي السوري
Coat of arms of the Syrian Arab Republic
Syrian Arab Army Flag
|Founded||August 1, 1945|
|President of Syria||Bashar al-Assad|
|Minister of Defence||Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij|
|Chief of Army Staff||Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub|
|Conscription||18 years of age for compulsory and voluntary military service; conscript service obligation is 18 months; women are not conscripted but may volunteer to serve; re-enlistment obligation 5 years, with retirement after 15 years or age 40 (enlisted) or 20 years or age 45 |
|Active personnel||220,000 to 280,000; war makes estimates unreliable|
|Reserve personnel||200,000+; war makes estimates unreliable|
|Budget||$1.8 billion (FY11)|
|Percent of GDP||3.5% (FY11)|
|Foreign suppliers|| Russia
The Syrian Army, officially the Syrian Arab Army (Arabic: الجيش العربي السوري al-Jaysh al-’Arabī as-Sūrī), is the land force branch of the Syrian Armed Forces. It is the dominant military service of the four uniformed services, controlling the senior most posts in the armed forces, and has the greatest manpower, approximately 80 percent of the combined services. The Syrian Army was formed by the French after World War I, after the French obtained a mandate over the region.
Since 1948 it has played a major role in Syria's governance, mounting five military coups (two in 1949, including the March 1949 Syrian coup d'état and the August 1949 coup by Colonel Sami al-Hinnawi, 1954, 1963, 1966, and in 1970. It has fought four wars with Israel (1948, the Six Day War in 1967, 1973, and 1982 in Lebanon) and one with Jordan (Black September in Jordan, 1970). An armoured division was also deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990–91, but saw little action. From 1976 to 2005 it was the major pillar of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Internally it played a major part in suppressing the 1979–82 Islamic uprising in Syria, and since early 2011 has been heavily engaged in fighting the Syrian civil war.
In 1919, the French formed the Troupes spéciales du Levant as part of the Army of the Levant. The former with 8,000 men later grew into both the Syrian and Lebanese armies. This force was used primarily as auxiliaries in support of French troops, and senior officer posts were held by Frenchmen, although Syrians were allowed to hold commissions below the rank of major.
As Syria gained independence in 1946, its leaders envisioned a division-sized army. The 1st Brigade was ready by the time of the Syrian war against Israel on May 15, 1948. It consisted of two infantry battalions and one armoured battalion. The 2nd Brigade was organized during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and also included two infantry battalions and one armoured battalion.
At the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the army was small, poorly armed, and poorly trained. 'Paris had relied primarily on French regulars to keep the peace in Syria and had neglected indigenous forces. Consequently, training was lackadaisical, discipline lax, and staff work almost unheard of. ...there were about 12,000 men in the Syrian army. These troops were mostly grouped into three infantry brigades and an armored force of about battalion size' writes Pollack.
Between 1948 and 1967, a series of military coups destroyed the stability of the government and any remaining professionalism within the army. In March 1949, the chief of staff, General Husni al-Za'im, installed himself as president. Two more military dictators followed by December 1949. General Adib Shishakli then held power until deposed in the 1954 Syrian coup d'etat. Further coups followed, each attended by a purge of the officer corps to remove supporters of the losers from the force. 'Discipline in the army broke down across the board as units and their commanders pledged their allegiance to different groups and parties. Indeed, by the late 1950s, the situation had become so bad that Syrian officers regularly disobeyed the orders of superiors who belonged to different ethnic or political groups' writes Pollack. The 1963 Syrian coup d'état had as one of its key objectives the seizure of the Al-Kiswah military camp, home to the 70th Armoured Brigade. There was another 1966 Syrian coup d'etat.
However in 1967 the army did appear to have some strength. It had around 70,000 personnel, roughly 550 tanks and assault guns, 500 APCs, and nearly 300 artillery pieces. The army had sixteen brigades: twelve infantry, two armoured (probably including the 70th Armoured), and two mechanised. The Syrian government deployed twelve of the sixteen brigades to the Golan, including both armoured brigades and one mechanised brigade. Three 'brigade groups', each comprising four brigades, were deployed: the 12th in the north, holding the sector from the B'nat Ya'acov bridge to the slopes of Mount Hermon, the 35th in the south from the B'nat Ya'acov bridge to the Yarmuk River border with Jordan, and the 42nd in reserve, earmarked for a theatre-level counterattack role. During the Six Day War Israeli assault of the Golan heights, the Syrian army failed to counterattack the Israelis as the Israelis breached the Syrian positions. While Syrian units fought hard whenever the Israelis entered their fields of fire, no attempts appear to have been made to exploit Israeli disorientation and confusion during the initial assault.
Judging from reports of 1967-1970, including the reporting of the 5th Infantry Division in 1970, the Army appears to have formed its first divisions during this period. The 1st and 3rd Armoured Division, and 5th, 7th, and 9th Mechanised Infantry Divisions were all formed prior to 1973. Samuel M. Katz writes that after Hafez al-Assad gained power in November 1970, the army expanded to the five divisions listed above, plus ten independent brigades, an artillery rocket brigade (the 69th), and '..a reinforced brigade variously termed the 70th Armoured Brigade or the Assad Republican Guard. It is today known as the Armoured Defence Force; as Assad's praetorian guard it is stationed in and around Damascus and subordinate to the Defence Companies under the command of Assad's brother Rifa'at.
On 18 September 1970, the Syrian government became involved in Black September in Jordan when it sent a reinforced armoured brigade to aid the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Syrian armoured units crossed the border and overran Irbid with the help of local Palestinian forces. They encountered several Jordanian Army detachments, but rebuffed them without major difficulty. Two days later, the 5th Infantry Division, heavily reinforced, was also sent into Jordan. Two armoured brigades were attached to the division, bringing its tank strength up to over 300 T-55s and its manpower to over 16,000. The division entered Jordan at ar-Ramtha, destroyed a company of Jordanian Centurion tanks there, and continued directly towards Amman. Pollack says it is likely that they intended to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy itself. Despite defeating the Jordanian Army at al-Ramtha on 21 September, after fierce air attacks on 22 September, the Syrians stopped the attack and began to retreat.
After 1970 further Syrian engagements included:
- Yom Kippur War against Israel
- Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), (against Lebanese militias, the PLO and Israel)
In March 1980 the 3rd Armoured Division and detachments from the Defense Companies arrived in Aleppo. The division was under the command of General Shafiq Fayadh, Hafiz Assad's first cousin. The troops sealed '..off whole quarters and carr[ied] out house-to-house searches, often preceded by tank fire.' Hundreds of suspects were rounded up. Only two conventional Army brigades deployed to Hama in 1982, the 3rd Armoured Division’s 47th Armoured and 21st Mechanised Brigades. Three quarters of the officers and one third of the soldiers in the two brigades were Alawites. Most of the repression was carried out by the Defence Companies and the Special Forces. Meanwhile, the Special Forces were isolating and combing through Hama, killing and capturing suspected regime opponents.
Syrian forces fought Israel during the 1982 Lebanon War.
In 1984, Major General Ali Haidar's Special Forces were instrumental in blocking an abortive attempt by Rifaat Assad and his Defense Companies to seize the capital. Fayadh's 3rd Armoured Division moved into the capital to join Haidar's forces in the confrontation with the Defense Companies. The 3rd Armoured Division, it seems, had historically been based at al-Qutayfah, near Damascus.
In 1994, Haidar expressed objections to the Syrian president's decision to bring Bashar home from his studies in Britain and groom him for the succession after the death of Basil, the eldest Assad son. Soon afterwards, on 3 September 1994, Jane's Defence Weekly reported that then-President Hafez Assad had dismissed at least 16 senior military commanders. Among them was Haidar, then commander of the Special Forces, and General Shafiq Fayadh, a cousin of the President who had commanded the 'crack' 3rd Armoured Division for nearly two decades. The 3rd Armoured Division was 'deployed around Damascus.' JDW commented that 'the Special Forces and the 3rd Armoured Division, along with the 1st Armoured Division are key elements in the security structure that protects Assad's government. Any command changes involving those formations have considerable political significance.' Post-uprising reporting indicated the 1st Armoured Division had historically been at al-Kiswah.
In 2010, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated the Army had 220,000 regulars and 280,000 reservists. The Syrian armed forces have also been involved in suppressing dissident movements within Syria, for example by fighting a Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in the 1980s.
Syrian Civil War
The use of the army both to hold territory and fight rebels has caused mixed results; around 10,000 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, initially defected or deserted in late 2011, but the main force remained. Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, placed the initial figure at less than 1000 soldiers, insisting that the claims of thousands of defected soldiers announced are a 'false hope'. Defectors formed the Free Syrian Army as the armed wing of the uprising, and engaged in combat with security forces and soldiers around Syria.
However, by March 2012, many more soldiers, unhappy with crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters, switched sides and Turkish officials said that 60,000 soldiers had deserted the Syrian army, including 20,000 in one month. It was added that most of the deserters were junior officers and soldiers. In June 2012, the UN head of peacekeeping said that Syria was in a state of "civil war" with the rebel Free Syrian Army trying to overthrow the current government controlled territory with the Syrian Army attempting to regain control of it. In total, 40 Brigadier generals from the Army have defected to the opposition army, out of a total 1,200 generals.
On 14 June 73 Syrian Army officers and their families, some 202 people in total, sought refuge in Turkey. Amongst their number were seven generals and 20 colonels. According to General Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, one of the most senior defectors, Syrian forces were estimated at 280,000 including conscripts after a year of desertions or defections in January 2012.
Reliable reports indicate that part of the problem facing the Army and other security forces is that Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting militants operating inside Syria to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad's government.
An analyst, Joseph Holliday, wrote in 2013 that '..the Assad government has from the beginning of the conflict been unable to mobilize all of its forces without risking largescale defections. The single greatest liability that the Assad regime has faced in employing its forces has been the challenge of relying on units to carry out orders to brutalize the opposition.' This has resulted in Bashar's following his father's precedent by attaching regular army units to more reliable forces (Special Forces, Republican Guard, or 4th Armoured Division). When Hafez al-Assad directed both the suppression of revolts in Hama in 1982 and during the present civil war, this technique has been used.
The 3rd Armoured Division has deployed elements of three brigades from its bases around Qutayfah to Deraa, Zabadani, and Hama, while the 11th Armoured Division has stayed close to its bases in Homs and Hama.
Structure in 2001
Richard Bennett wrote in 2001 that 'three corps [were] formed in 1985 to give the Army more flexibility and to improve combat efficiency by decentralizing the command structure, absorbing at least some of the lessons learned during the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon in 1982.' The organization and military doctrine of the army followed the Soviet model.
Richard Bennett's estimate of the 2001 order of battle was:
- 1st Corps HQ Damascus, which covered from Golan Heights, the fortified zone and south to Der'a near the Jordanian border.
- 5th Armoured Division, which included the 17th and 96th Armoured Brigades and the 112th Mechanised Brigade
- 6th Armoured Division, with the 12th and 98th Armoured Brigades and the 11th Mechanised Brigades
- 7th Mechanised Division, with the 58th and 68th Armoured Brigades and the 78th Mechanised Brigade
- 8th Armoured Division, which included the 62nd and 65th Armoured Brigades and the 32nd Mechanised Brigade
- 9th Armoured Division, with the 43rd and 91st Armoured Brigades and the 52nd Mechanised Brigade. (The 9th Armoured Division served in the 1991 Gulf War as the Arab Joint Forces Command North reserve and saw little action.) The 52nd Armoured Brigade was reported in Der'aa in southern Syria in May 2013.
Bennett said the 1st Corps also [had] four independent special forces regiments, including two trained for heliborne commando operations against the Israeli signals intelligence & observation posts on Mount Hermon and elsewhere in the Golan Heights.
- 2nd Corps HQ Zabadani, covers north of Damascus, to Homs and includes Lebanon.
- Bennett said in 2001 that the corps' principal units [were] believed to include:
- 1st Armoured Division, with the 44th and 46th Armoured Brigades and the 42nd Mechanised Brigade
- 3rd Armoured Division, with the 47th and 82nd Armoured Brigades and the 132nd Mechanised Brigade
- 11th Armoured Division, with the 60th and 67th Armoured Brigades and the 87th Mechanised Brigade
- 4th Mechanised Division with the 1st Armored Brigade and the 61st and 89th Mechanised Brigades
- 10th Mechanised Division, headquartered in Shtoura, Lebanon. Its main units [were in 2001] deployed to control the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway with the 123rd Mechanised Brigade near Yanta, the 51st Armoured Brigade near Zahle in the Beqaa Valley and the 85th Armoured Brigade.. deployed around the complex of positions at Dahr al-Baidar.
- three other heavy brigades from the 3rd and 11th Armoured Divisions [were] known to be regularly deployed to eastern Lebanon.
- there [were] five special forces regiments in the Lebanon.
- 3rd Corps HQ Aleppo, based in the north and [covered] Hama, the Turkish and Iraqi borders, the Mediterranean coastline and [was] tasked with protecting the complex of chemical and biological warfare and missile production and launch facilities.
- The 2nd Reserve Armoured Division, with the 14th and 15th Armoured Brigades and the 19th Mechanised Brigade. The 2nd [was] also believed to operate as the main armoured forces training formation.
- Other units under the control of this corps [included] four independent infantry brigades, one border guard brigade, one independent armoured regiment, effectively a brigade group, and one special forces regiment.
- the Coastal Defence Brigade, which [operated] largely as an independent unit within the 3rd Corps area, [was] headquartered in the naval base of Latakia with four Coastal Defence Battalions in Latakia, Banias, Hamidieh and Tartous. Each Battalion has four batteries of both the short range SSC-3 Styx and long range SSC-1B Sepal missile systems.
The IISS listed smaller formations in 2006 as:
- Four independent Infantry Brigades
- Ten independent Airborne Special Forces Regiments (Seven regiments attached to 2nd Corps)
- Two independent Artillery Brigades
- Two independent Anti-tank Brigades
- Surface-to-surface Missile Command with three SSM Brigades (each with three SSM battalions),
- Three coastal defence missile brigades
- One Border Guard Brigade
- 4th Armoured Division (The Defense companies were transformed into the 569th Armoured Division, which then became the 4th Armoured Division.)
- The Republican Guard Armoured Division, with three Armoured brigades, one Mechanised brigade, and one artillery regiment.
Aleppo was home to the "Al-Assad Military Academy" (Arabic: أكاديمية الأسد للهندسة العسكرية), which provided basic training for infantry and armoured corps conscripts and advanced training for Army engineers. It was overrun and captured by Free Syrian Army rebel forces in December 2012, but by June 2013 appears to be back under central government control.
Structure details made available from 2011
The European Council named Major General Wajih Mahmud as commander of the 18th Armoured Division in the Official Journal of the European Union on 15 November 2011, sanctioning him for violence committed in Homs. Henry Boyd of the IISS noted that "...in Homs, the 18th Armoured Division was reinforced by Special Forces units and.. by elements of the 4th Division under Maher’s de facto command."
Information from Holliday 2013 suggests that the reserve armoured division is the 17th (rather than any other designation), which was responsible for eastern Syria. The division's 93rd Brigade left Idlib to secure Al-Raqqah Governorate in early 2012. Following the reported capture of Raqqa on 3-6 March 2013, elements of the 17th Division remained under siege to the north of the city in October 2013.
The vast majority of Syrian military equipment was Soviet manufactured.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2012)|
- 10,885 Armoured Fighting Vehicles:
- 4,815+ Towed Artillery Pieces:
- 1,136 Self-Propelled Artillery Pieces:
- 6,890+ Anti Tank Guided Weapon Launchers (4,290 in storage)
- 500+ Multiple Launch Rocket Systems
- 86+ Tactical ballistic missile launchers
- 4,235+ Surface to Air Missile Launchers:
Uniforms and Rank Insignia (1987)
Service uniforms for Syrian officers generally follow the British Army style, although army combat clothing follows the Soviet model. Each uniform has two coats: a long one for dress and a short jacket for informal wear. Army officer uniforms are khaki in summer, olive in winter. Certain Army (paratroops and special forces) and Air Defense Force personnel may wear camouflage uniforms. Among the camouflage are Red Lizard, and Syrian Leaf pattern; a locally-made copy of the ERDL. Air force officers have two uniforms for each season: a khaki and a light gray for summer and a dark blue and a light gray in winter. Naval officers wear white in summer and navy blue in winter while lower ranks wear the traditional bell bottoms and white blouse. The uniform for naval chief petty officers is a buttoned jacket, similar to that worn by United States chief petty officers. Officers have a variety of headgear, including a service cap, garrison cap, and beret (linen in summer and wool in winter). The color of the beret varies according to the officer's unit. The most common beret colour is black, for infantry, Engineering, Signals and supporting arms personnel, followed by Green, for Armoured, Mechanized and Artillery personnel, Red for the Republican Guard and Military Police, and Maroon for the Special Forces. Current combat helmets include the SSh-68 and green PASGT; both of which can be equipped with "Syrian Leaf" helmet covers.
Commissioned officers' rank insignia are identical for the army and air force. These are gold on a bright green or black shoulder board for the army and gold on a bright blue board for the air force. Officer ranks are standard, although the highest is the equivalent of Colonel General, a rank held in 1986 only by the commander in chief and the minister of defense. Navy officer rank insignia are gold stripes worn on the lower sleeve. The highest-ranking officer in Syria's navy is the equivalent of lieutenant general. Army and air force rank for warrant officers is indicated by gold stars on an olive green shield worn on the upper left arm. Lower noncommissioned ranks are indicated by upright and inverted chevrons worn on the upper left arm.
Although some twenty-five orders and medals are authorized, generally only senior officers and warrant officers wear medal ribbons. The following are some important Syrian awards: Order of Umayyads, Medal of Military Honor, the War Medal, Medal for Courage, Yarmuk Medal, Wounded in Action Medal, and Medal of March 8, 1963.
- Jansen, Michael (23 July 2012). "Syrian army reasserts control over rebel areas". The Irish Times.
- "الأسد يعيّن العماد علي أيوب رئيساً لأركان الجيش السوري". United Press International (in Arabic). 22 July 2012.
- CIA - The World Factbook - Syria
- "CIA World Factbook". CIA. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
- International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2010, 272-273.
- "SIPRI Arms Transfers Database". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
- Pollack, 2002, p.447
- Morris, Benny (2008), 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, p. 251. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-15112-1.
- Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War, 2002, p.448
- Pollack, 2002, p.457-458
- Pollack, 2002, p.458
- Pollack, 2002, p.459-460
- Pollack, 2002, p.464
- Hanna Batatu (1999). Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics. Princeton University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-691-00254-5. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Samuel M. Katz, Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars, Osprey Publishing Men-at-Arms 194, 1988, 13.
- Pollack, 2002, p.476-478
- An order of battle of the Syrian Army in October 1973 can be found in Colonel Trevor Dupuy, Elusive Victory - The Arab-Israeli Wars 1947-74, MacDonald and Jane's, London, 1978
- Patrick Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 1988), p.327, via Holliday 2013, 12.
- Nikolaos van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba’th Party, (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2011), p.114, via Holliday 2013, 12.
- van Dam, 2011, p.104, via Holliday 2013.
- "Syria's Praetorian Guards: A Primer". Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 7 (5 August 2000). Retrieved 20 May 2011.
- Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn't Take A Hero, Bantam Books, 1993, 467-9.
- "Over 10,000 soldiers have deserted Syria army, says high-ranking defector". Haaretz. Reuters and Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 1 October 2011.
- Atassi, Basma (16 November 2011). "Free Syrian Army grows in influence". Al Jazeera.
- Emre, Peker; Abu-Nasr, Donna (15 March 2012). "Syrian Armed Forces Desertion Said to Surge to 60,000". Bloomberg.
- "Syria in civil war, says UN official Herve Ladsous". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 12 June 2012.
- "Chief of protocol at the Syrian presidential palace denies defection". Al Arabiya. 9 August 2012.
- http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/dozens-of-syrian-officers-defect-to-turkey-as-russia-warns-against-arming-rebels-1.529896 Dozens of Syrian officers defect to Turkey as Russia warns against arming rebels 14 June 2013
- "Syria's army weakened by growing desertions". Reuters. 1 January 2012.
- Holliday, 2013, 11, 12.
- Holliday 2013, 26, citing “By All Means Necessary: Individual and Command Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity in Syria,” Human Rights Watch, December 2011, p. 36; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Facebook Page <facebook.com/syriaohr>, January 24, 2012; Syrian Revolution Coordinator’s Union Facebook Page <facebook.com/monasiqoon>, February 7, 2012; Local Coordination Committees Website <lccsyria.org>, November 15, 2012.
- Richard M. Bennett, The Syrian Military: A Primer, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August/September 2001.
- Library of Congress Country Study Syria
- International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2006, p.208-9
- CNN, 
- "By All Means Necessary!". Human Rights Watch. 16 December 2011. p. 5.
- "Council Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1151/2011 of 14 November 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 442/2011 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria" (PDF). Official Journal of the European Union. 15 November 2011.
- Boyd, Henry (12 March 2012). "Shades of Hama and Grozny in Homs and Idlib". International Institute for Strategic Studies.
- Holliday, 2013, 42, 46, 47. Holliday's sources include "Skype Interview with exiled former Syrian Army General Officer in Washington, DC on April 19, 2012."
- Holliday, 2013, 33, citing '“Clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors kill at least 13,” Washington Post, October 13, 2011; Syrian Revolution Coordinator’s Union Facebook Page <facebook.com/monasiqoon>, November 13, 2012.
- Alice Martins, Watching Rebels Fight Among Themselves for the City of Raqqa, SyriaDeeply.org Beta, October 2, 2013.
- "Uniforms and Rank Insignia". Library of Congress. April 1987.
- Richard M. Bennett, The Syrian Military: A Primer, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August/September 2001.
- Joseph Holliday, 'The Assad Regime: From Counterinsurgency to Civil War,' Institute for the Study of War, March 2013. Seemingly the best concise description and analysis of the Syrian Army and its involvement in the current Syrian Civil War.
- Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948-91, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2002
- Department of the Army, Area Handbook for Syria, Washington, For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1965, "Department of the Army pamphlet no. 550-47." Revision of the 1958 edition.
- Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948-91, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2002 reviewed in Brooks, Risa A. "Making Military Might: Why Do States Fail and Succeed? A Review Essay." International Security 28, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 149-191.
- History of the Syrian Arab Army: prussianization of the Arab Army, the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918, and the cult of nationalization of Arabs in the Levant after World War I, Infantry Magazine, Nov-Dec 2005.