Desert Hawks Brigade

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Desert Hawks Brigade
(Liwa Suqur al-Sahara)
Participant in the Syrian Civil War
Suqur al-Sahara SSI.png
Desert Hawks Brigade shoulder sleeve insginia
Active2013 – August 2017[1]
LeadersCol. Mohammad Jaber[2]
HeadquartersAleppo
Area of operationsSyria
Part of Syrian Army
Allies National Defence Force
Syrian Resistance
LAAG[3]
Opponent(s)Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army

Al-Nusra Front

 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Battles and war(s)

The Desert Hawks Brigade (Arabic: لواء صقور الصحراء‎, liwāʾ suqūr aṣ-ṣaḥrāʾ, Liwa Suqur al-Sahara) was an armed private militia branch affiliated with the Syrian Arab Army which fought on the side of the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War. It was primarily composed of former military officers and veterans as well as volunteers from other pro-government groups, with an age range of 25 to 40 years. The brigade has been described as an "elite"[4] group trained in ambush tactics, and has been employed in special assignments on several fronts. The group is equipped with light and medium arms, and is given artillery support from the regular Syrian Army when needed.[5]

History[edit]

According to some sources, the group was formed in Homs Governorate and operated in the desert regions bordering Iraq and Jordan to cut routes used by anti-government rebel groups to smuggle fighters and supplies in and out of Syria.[5] However, other sources state that the group was formed in early 2013 due to a near general collapse of the Syrian Army supply system where by mid-2012 the Army soldiers lacked not only fuel and ammunition but also basic necessities such as food.[6] In an environment of an internationally imposed embargo the Syrian government reached out to wealthy and well connected individuals (often of highly controversial background) such as Mohamed Jaber and Ayman Jaber in order to provide the necessary resources.[7][8] In addition, the Syrian government allowed such individuals to form private militia units, such as Desert Hawks, whose members were better equipped than regular army soldiers due to connections and financial resources available to the Jaber brothers.[9][10] Some sources also state that "paramilitary recruitment has been far more successful than army conscription, as it tends to occur through local, informal networks and family or community ties... it’s also easier to join a paramilitary group and then leave it".[11]

Although funded and formed by the Jaber brothers the unit was operationally lead by Staff Colonel Mohsen Said Hussein, a Republican Guard officer and paratrooper.[12]

One of the units tasks was to protect the oil and gas fields on Syrian territory and serve as a rapid response force.[12]

Service history[edit]

It participated in the June 2013 capture of the town of al-Qaryatayn, where it lost one of its commanders in the fighting.[4] After rebels launched an offensive in northern Latakia Governorate and seized control of the majority-Armenian town of Kessab, Suqur al-Sahra was transferred to that front, where its members helped lead the capture of the strategic height of Tower 45,[5] losing at least three members in combat.[4]

On November 2014 during the battle for Shaer gas field the units (operational) commander Mohsen Hussein was killed while attempting to expel ISIL terrorists from the facility.[12]

In December 2015 the unit participated in operation which rescued a downed Russian co-pilot after his plane was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet (the pilot was killed by anti-government armed forces while descending to the ground).[13][14]

In course of the 2015–16 Latakia offensive, the brigade developed a close connection to the Shia militant group LAAG, which began to provide advisors to Suqur al-Sahara.[3]

The unit participated in both Palmyra liberation campaigns.[15][16] However, during the first liberation campaign, in March 2016, it was involved in a friendly fire incident with the SAA Tiger Forces members which left 9 Desert Hawk members dead and several dozen injured. The incident badly strained the relationship/cooperation between the two most successful Syrian pro-government units[8] which had successfully cooperated just one month prior, in East Aleppo.[17]

In June 2016 the unit together with the Syrian Marines (a sister unit of the Desert Hawks which is led by Ayman Jaber the brother of Desert Hawks leader Mohamed Jaber)[18] participated in the unsuccessful Ithriyah-Raqqa offensive with some sources blaming the stated units for the failure.[19] However, other sources pointed to a general lack of planning in the Syrian Arab Army high command as the root cause of the failure.[20] The offensive began shortly after Kurdish forces achieved notable advances in Manbij and the Syrian command attempted to exploit this, reportedly believing that ISIL would be unable to fight on two different fronts simultaneously.[21][22][20]

Desert Hawks participated in the Aleppo liberation campaign which was successfully concluded in December 2016.[23][24] However, their achievement was somewhat tarnished after it was learned that after the battle several of its members reportedly looted civilian property in the city.[25]

In early 2017 one of the Desert Hawks founders was arrested by other government forces after supposedly "interfering with a government convoy".[18]

In late June 2017 the unit deployed to the East Hama front but was withdrawn after only a few days due to unknown reasons.[26][27] In early July 2017, reports emerged that members of the unit had allegedly desecrated corpses of killed ISIL terrorists.[28]

More than 1000 Desert Hawks members were killed during the Syrian Civil War.[29]

Portrayal in the media[edit]

The Desert Hawks together with the Syrian Arab Army Tiger Forces were one of the most combat effective pro-government units.[9] However, the units success on the battlefield was frequently overshadowed by the highly negative public perceptions of their founders (Mohamed Jaber and Ayman Jaber) who are portrayed as warlords and smugglers exploiting the war situation in Syria in order to increase their own personal wealth.[7][30] Subsequently, the Desert Hawks were stigmatized as Jaber's own personal guard and only then a pro-government unit of possibly questionable long-term loyalty to the current Syrian government.[30] On the other hand, other pro-government units have a similar oligarch background, for example, the Syrian Arab Army Tiger Forces (which are highly praised in the pro-government media)[31] are financed by Rami Makhlouf, current Syrian president Assads cousin and one of the wealthiest men in Syria.[12][32]

Disbandment[edit]

On 2 August 2017, the Desert Hawks Brigade was disbanded, with Colonel Jaber returning to Russia, Ukraine or the disputed Crimea region to continue his pre-war employment. The soldiers will allegedly be spread out between the Qalamoun Shield Forces, 3rd Armoured Division, the 5th Corps and the Syrian Marines of 103rd Commando Brigade of the Republican Guard which is commanded by his brother, Colonel Aymen Jaber.[1] A transfer to the closely linked Syrian Marines seemed unlikely since the personnel from this unit have also began transferring to other units.[33]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Pro-government "Desert Hawks" disbanded after three years of service". 2 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Senior Al-Qaeda Fighter Killed at Sheikh Miskeen; Desert Hawks Reassigned to Dara'a Front". Al-Masdar News. 12 November 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (19 February 2016). "Liwa Usud al-Hussein: A New Pro-Assad Militia in Latakia". Syria Comment. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b c al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad (8 April 2014). "The Desert Falcons: An Elite Pro-Assad Force". Syria Comment. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b c ""صقور الصحراء" تظهر في كسب: نصب كمائن ومهمات خاصة صعبة!". El Nashra. 1 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  6. ^ Harding, Luke (27 July 2012). "Syrian army supply crisis has regime on brink of collapse, say defectors" – via The Guardian.
  7. ^ a b Editorial, Reuters. "EXCLUSIVE-Assad's secret oil lifeline: Iraqi crude from Egypt".
  8. ^ a b "The Decay of the Syrian Regime is Much Worse Than You Think". 31 August 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Who are the Syrian Desert Hawks?". 4 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Assad Regime Militias and Shi'ite Jihadis in the Syrian Civil War - bellingcat". 30 November 2016.
  11. ^ Khaddour, Kheder. "Strength in Weakness: The Syrian Army's Accidental Resilience". Carnegie Middle East Center.
  12. ^ a b c d "Syria's Desert Hawks and the Loyalist Response to ISIS - Small Wars Journal". smallwarsjournal.com.
  13. ^ furby raffa (24 April 2017). ""Suqur al-Sahara" - "Desert Eagles" unit - Saving Russian pilot[News]" – via YouTube.
  14. ^ Sputnik. "Russia Awards Syrian Special Forces for Saving Su-24 Co-Pilot". sputniknews.com.
  15. ^ "Desert Hawks redeploy to west Palmyra to lead new offensice". 7 February 2017.
  16. ^ "Syrian Military Deploys Elite Forces For Palmyra Offensive". 7 February 2017.
  17. ^ "Tiger Forces complete the east Aleppo encirclement: 800+ ISIS fighters trapped". 20 February 2016.
  18. ^ a b "Regime Forces arrest Sea Falcons Commander's brother".
  19. ^ "Disastrous turn of events force the Syrian Army to withdraw from west Raqqa". 22 June 2016.
  20. ^ a b "No end in sight: Failed Tabqa offensive reveals underlying shortcomings of regime forces". spioenkop.blogspot.hr.
  21. ^ Al-awsat, Asharq (6 June 2016). "Russia Enters the Battle for Raqqa Through the "Desert Hawks" - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English".
  22. ^ "Syria's civil war is almost over - and it looks like Assad has won". 6 March 2017.
  23. ^ "Desert Hawks Brigade in Battle for Aleppo (Infographics)". 2 November 2016.
  24. ^ "Array of pro-Syrian government forces advances in Aleppo - FDD's Long War Journal". FDD's Long War Journal.
  25. ^ "Do Syrian Soldiers Loot Towns Liberated from Terrorists? (Photo)". 20 November 2016.
  26. ^ "Syrian War Report – June 29, 2017: Desert Hawks Brigade Deploys Large Reinforcements For Battle Against ISIS". 29 June 2017.
  27. ^ "Desert Hawks withdraw forces from east Hama offensive". 15 July 2017.
  28. ^ https://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/1-july-syrian-army-desert-hawks-pose-and-take-photos-with
  29. ^ http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/09/the-history-of-suqur-al-sahara-interview
  30. ^ a b Germany, SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hamburg. "Gangster's Paradise: Assad's Control Erodes as Warlords Gain Upper Hand - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International". SPIEGEL ONLINE.
  31. ^ "How the Tiger Forces became the most effective fighting force in Syria". 11 July 2016.
  32. ^ "Tiger Forces: History And Capabilities Of Syrian Army's Elite Unite". 19 February 2017.
  33. ^ "Exclusive: Over 900 Syrian Marines join elite military shield forces". 23 February 2017.