National Defence Forces (Syria)

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National Defence Forces
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 Armed Forces[1]
Type Infantry (militia)
National Guard
Role Reserve Army[2]
Size 100,000[3]
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:

NDF flag Flag of the National Defense Force.svg

The National Defence Forces (NDF; Arabic: قوات الدفاع الوطنيQuwat ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī) is a 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, received salaries and military equipment from the government.[9][10] Since the formation of the NDF, Shabiha members have been incorporated into its structure.[11][12]

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]

Others, like the Druze people of Al-Suwayda Governorate join to protect their land from ISIS.[13] In late June 2015, the Syrian government began arming citizens of this governorate against ISIS, who were harassing the local population with abductions, executions, and plundering. The locals became a large and powerful NDF contingent in the governorate.[13]

Iranian role[edit]

The creation of the NDF was personally overseen by Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani.[14] Syrian security officials admitted that they received assistance from Iran and Hezbollah, who both "played a key role in the formalization of the NDF along the model of the Iranian ‘Basij’ militia", with the NDF recruits receiving training in urban guerilla warfare from Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC) and Hezbollah instructors at facilities inside Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, with this partnership remaining the same as of April 2015.[11] Iran has contributed to gathering together existing neighborhood militias into a functioning hierarchy and provided them with better equipment and training.[5] The United States government has also stated that Iran is helping build the group on the model of its own Basij militia, with some members reportedly being sent for training in Iran.[15]


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.[16] 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][17]

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][18]

Units mostly operate in their local areas, although members can also choose to take part in army operations.[9][19] Others have claimed that the NDF does most of the fighting because NDF members, as locals, have a strong knowledge of the region.[19]

Women's section[edit]

The force has a 500-strong women's wing called "Lionesses of National Defence", which operates checkpoints.[20] 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.[21]

Expanding role[edit]

Struggling with reliability and issues with defections, officers of the Syrian Army 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]

Infighting with Syrian government[edit]

On 30 April 2015, according to anti governments claims infighting broke out in the Zahraa area of Homs between the local NDF and government security forces attempting to arrest NDF members after complaints of lawlessness from the local population, resulting in several deaths.[22]


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]


The Institute for the Study of War has stated that "Local NDF commanders often engage in war profiteering through protection rackets, looting, and organized crime. NDF members have been implicated in waves of murders, robberies, thefts, kidnappings, and extortions throughout regime-held parts of Syria since the formation of the organization in 2013."[11] Unlike the Syrian Army, NDF soldiers are allowed to take loot from rebel-held houses and battlefields, which can then be sold on for extra money.[9] 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."[23] 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.[24] The NDF has looted both pro-government and opposition areas, referring to the latter type of looting as the "Sunni market", as Sunnis are the common target in pro-opposition territory that the Assad government has recaptured.[24]

In early 2015, NDF members looted Ismaili religious minority homes in the wake of an ISIS attack in central Syria.[25] In May 2015, the NDF were told to leave the Ismaili town of Aqarib al-Safia in Hama after the NDF committed numerous acts of theft against the local population, and the Ismaili community's militas refused to be associated with the Assad regime.[26]

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. ^ "The Shia crescendo". The Economist. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d "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. ^ a b c Kozak, Christopher (26 May 2015). "The Regime's Military Capabilities: Part 1". ISW. Retrieved 31 May 2015. Local NDF commanders often engage in war profiteering through protection rackets, looting, and organized crime. NDF members have been implicated in waves of murders, robberies, thefts, kidnappings, and extortions throughout regime-held parts of Syria since the formation of the organization in 2013. 
  12. ^ "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Leith Fadel. "Sweida Residents Fight Back Against ISIS: Terrorist Group Suffers Heavy Losses". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 26 September 2015. 
  14. ^ Siegel, Jacob (5 June 2015). "The Myth of Iran's Military Mastermind". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "Signs of Strain on Syria's Military Build". 
  16. ^ Racha Abi Haidar (8 February 2014). "Armenians in Syria, After the Conflict". Al Akhbar. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  17. ^ Sly, Liz (May 12, 2013). "Assad forces gaining ground in Syria". Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Syria’s civil war: The regime digs in". The Economist. 15 June 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Glass, Charles (5 December 2013). "Syria: On the Way to Genocide?". 
  20. ^ Adam Heffez (28 November 2013). "Using Women to Win in Syria". Al-Monitor (Eylül). Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  21. ^ Sly, Liz (2013-01-25). "The all-female militias of Syria". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  22. ^ "Regime fights own militia in Homs". Now Media. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2015. "A joint force of the regime’s security apparatus, supported by a BMP and [ZSU-23-4] Shilka armored vehicle stormed overnight the headquarters of… National Defense Forces groups in the Zahraa area,” local media activist Thaer Khalidiyeh told the London-based daily [...] “Clashes between the two sides resulted in a number of fatalities,” he said, adding that regime troops found a car rigged with explosives mean to assassinate Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi in the NDF headquarters [...] “The differences between the two sides broke out when the inhabitants of Zahraa and [a nearby Armenian quarter] began to complain about the actions of the NDF members.” 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ a b Sinjab, Lina. "Syria: Assad loyalists concerned by rise of paramilitaries". BBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  25. ^ Meuse, Alison (18 April 2015). "Syria's Minorities: Caught Between Sword Of ISIS And Wrath of Assad". NPR. Retrieved 19 April 2015. Not only was the NDF late, it looted the homes of the victims, according to Ali. In addition, he says thousands of pro-regime militiamen and Hezbollah fighters were stationed in Saboura, just a few miles away, yet they did not come during the killings. 
  26. ^ "Syrian Ismaili town rejects regime militia". NOW News. 27 May 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015. “They lost faith in [the NDF’s] intentions after [the militia’s] transgressions and acts of theft against civilians in the village increased,” [...] He added that the self-defense unit was “completely separate from the regime. It’s only goal is to defend the village from attacks by ISIS.” [dead link]

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