4th Armoured Division (Syria)
The 4th Armoured Division (Arabic: الفرقة الرابعة Al-Firqat ur-Rābaʿah) is an elite formation of the Syrian Army whose primary purpose is to defend the Syrian government from internal and external threats.
The division has its roots in the Defense Companies commanded by Rifaat al-Assad. After Rifaat was banished from Syria in 1984, the Defense Companies were reorganised into the 569th Armoured Division, and then later into the 4th Armoured Division.
The Division is regarded by some as the best trained and best equipped of the Syrian Army. The 4th Armoured Division, the Republican Guard, and Syria's secret police form the heart of the country's security forces. As a result, the Division is drawn mostly from members of the same Alawite group as the Assad family. About 80 percent of the division's soldiers and officers are Alawites and nearly 90 percent of them are career soldiers, in contrast to the conscripts who comprise most of the army's other units.
The Division has a military base in the South of Damascus, which covers about 35 square miles and includes several mountain bunkers. Its main entrance gate is located next to a village called 'Al Horjelah'.
Role in the civil war
During the Syrian uprising, the 4th Armoured Division has played a key role in attempting to put down the uprising, being sent to quell protests in the southern city of Daraa, the coastal city of Banias, the central province of Homs and the northern province of Idlib. Alawite officers from the 4th Armoured Division have been sent to other formations within the Syrian army in an attempt by the government to keep a closer eye and firmer grip on many Sunni dominated formations, with the officers sent from the division relying on the division's fearsome reputation to keep soldiers in line.
Both the division as a whole and its component parts have been accused of engaging in human rights abuses during the Syrian uprising, such as arbitrary arrests and beatings, and the shooting of unarmed protesters. Their use by the Syrian government in the uprising has led to many of the division's commanders being subject to EU sanctions and travel bans.
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