The Armed Forces of Syria on the eve and during the uprising in the republic (2011-2013)

The Armed Forces of Syria on the eve and during the uprising in the republic (2011-2013)
The Armed Forces of Syria on the eve and during the uprising in the republic (2011-2013)

It is believed that since March 2011, when a wave of protests swept over Syria, the situation has moved from the category of mass disturbances to the category of riots, armed uprisings, insurgent and guerrilla actions; Finally, both participants and observers now acknowledge that a civil war is unfolding in Syria. Accordingly, the role of the country's armed forces, as well as the motivation and self-awareness of the soldiers, officers and army leadership, also changed. We are publishing the full text of the material prepared for the issue of the magazine "However", in which the article was published in an abridged form ("Loyalists against the rebels" - However, 04/01/2013).

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The armed forces occupy a special place in the life of Syria, being, along with the Party of Arab Socialist Renaissance (PASV, Baath), one of the pillars of the ruling regime. Almost all changes of power in Syria, up to the coming to power of Hafez Assad, took place in the form of military coups, and it was such a coup that brought the PASV to power in 1963. The "Baathist" character of the army is emphasized by the presence in it since 1971 of a ramified structure of PASV political bodies, headed by political workers, created on the Soviet model.

By the time the organized armed insurgency began in Syria (approximately January 2012), the number of the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, according to the most authoritative Western sources, was more than 294 thousand people. Of these, more than 200 thousand were in the ground forces, 90 thousand - in the Air Force and Air Defense (including 54 thousand in the Air Defense Command), and 3200 and - in the small naval forces of the country.

Acquisition is carried out mainly by conscription for a period of 24-30 months earlier, and from March 2011 - for 18 months. The Armed Forces have a significant number of reservists, the number of which was estimated at up to 352 thousand people, of which up to 280 thousand are in the ground forces.

Since 1956, the Syrian military system has been built under the dominant influence of the experience of Soviet military development, under the pressure of Soviet doctrines and methods of organization and combat use, and the armed forces themselves are equipped almost exclusively with Soviet-style equipment and weapons. In fact, the Syrian armed forces remained a "splinter" of the most conservative Soviet military organization, which retained many of its characteristic features (such as a massive mobilization army, requiring additional deployment and mobilization for full-scale hostilities). Taking into account the peculiarities of the Arab mentality, the general underdevelopment of the country and the lack of resources, many of the traditional defects of this Soviet military system, which manifested themselves back in the USSR, in modern Syrian conditions turn out to be critical and are one of the reasons for the erosion of the armed forces of the SAR during the civil war.

Composition and strength of the SAR Armed Forces

The peacetime ground forces of more than 200 thousand people included the directorates of three army corps, three mechanized divisions, seven armored divisions, a special forces division (special forces, special forces), an armored division of the Republican Guard, four separate infantry brigades, two separate anti-tank brigades, two separate artillery brigades, a separate tank regiment, 10 artillery regiments, an artillery regiment of the Republican Guard, 10 special-purpose regiments, three operational-tactical missile brigades, border guard brigades.

In addition, there were reserve components, including a reserve armored division and up to 30 separate reserve infantry regiments (on the basis of which, in wartime, the deployment of two motorized infantry divisions and a significant number of separate infantry brigades was supposed to be).

The organization of the army divisions roughly corresponded to the organization of the divisions of the Soviet Army in the 1970s-1980s, with the only difference that divisional regiments are called brigades in Syria. Each armored division includes three tank brigades, one mechanized brigade and one artillery regiment. Each mechanized division has two tank brigades, two mechanized brigades, and one artillery regiment.

For many years, the main goal of the Syrian ground forces was to defend the Golan Heights - Damascus direction in the event of an Israeli attack. The main grouping of ground forces (in particular, all 12 regular divisions) was concentrated in the southern part of the country in the areas immediately adjacent to the ceasefire line with Israel. After the conclusion of an armistice agreement with Israel in May 1974, Syria can have in the zone 0-10 km from the ceasefire line up to 6,000 soldiers and officers, 75 tanks and 36 guns with caliber up to 122 mm inclusive. In the 10-20 km zone, there are no restrictions on the number of personnel, and as for equipment, there can be up to 450 tanks and 163 artillery pieces. Between the Golan Heights and Damascus, the Syrians built three defense lines (the first 10 km from the ceasefire line), including field and permanent fortifications, minefields and dug-in tanks and guns, a large number of ATGMs. At the same time, since 2011, the army was forced to first take part in suppressing riots and fighting banditry, and from January 2012 to engage in intense clashes with partisan insurgents.

Air force

The air force and air defense of Syria includes the command of the air force itself and the command of the air defense. The Air Force organization is a kind of "mix" of the Soviet and British systems. The Air Force Command has two air divisions (fighter and fighter-bomber) and five separate aviation brigades (transport, electronic warfare and two helicopter). The main part is the air base (23), the command of which is subordinate to the air squadrons (which can be reduced to air brigades). In total, at the beginning of 2012, the Syrian Air Force identified 46 squadrons (20 fighter, seven fighter-bomber, one electronic warfare, four transport, 13 helicopter and one naval helicopter) and five training air groups (11 squadrons). Personnel training is carried out at the Air Force Academy.

Based on available Western data, on paper, the Syrian Air Force still outnumbers the aviation groupings of neighboring states, including Israel and Egypt. However, the overwhelming majority of the Syrian aircraft fleet is outdated and unable to withstand the air forces of potential adversaries. The most modern Syrian aircraft (up to a hundred MiG-29 and Su-24) were produced in the 1980s. and have not been upgraded since then. More than 30 MiG-25 fighters launched in the 1970s are probably not ready at this time. A significant part of the aircraft fleet still consists of MiG-21MF / bis fighters from the early 1970s, the squadrons of which were defeated during their last clash with the Israeli Air Force in 1982. Several important programs for the purchase of new combat aircraft and the modernization of old with the participation of Russia were frozen or canceled.

In addition to the general obsolescence of the aircraft fleet, the overall underfunding of the armed forces negatively affects the combat readiness of the country's air force, which is expressed in the lack of spare parts and fuel. The average flight time of fighter aircraft pilots, according to Western estimates, is 20-25 hours per year, which is completely insufficient to maintain flight and combat qualifications.Evidence of the low combat capability of the Syrian Air Force is the constant incursions of the Israeli Air Force into the country's airspace, including the famous demonstration flight over the palace of President Assad. The culmination was Operation Orchard in 2007, in which Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighters destroyed the nuclear reactor at Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria without encountering any resistance from Syrian aircraft.

It should be noted that since the Baath Party came to power in 1963, the Syrian Air Force has been central to the structure of the Syrian government. Air Force officers led by Hafez Assad spearheaded a coup that brought the Baath Party to power. Coming from the Air Force, Assad relied on former colleagues who formed the backbone of the service. Since then, the Air Force began to play a special role in the life of the country. Air Force Intelligence (Air Force Intelligence Directorate) is traditionally one of the leading intelligence services in Syria, and in the early stages of the Syrian uprising, coordinated actions on land against opposition forces. Since 2009, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate has been headed by Major General Jamil Hassan, an Alawite by religion who was a member of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. In late April 2011, VRS officers used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds of demonstrators who took to the streets in Damascus and other cities after midday prayer. In May 2011, the European Union announced a travel ban to Europe and a freeze on the assets of General Hassan for participating in the repression of the civilian population. In August 2012, General Hassan was killed by the Syrian Free Army.

As the conflict escalated, the role of the Air Force began to grow. The main task of the aviation was to help in the transfer of troops and air strikes on the positions of the rebels, some of whom were qualified by the opposition and Western media as mass killings of the civilian population. As the political situation deteriorated, Air Force personnel began to be recruited into an increasing number of ethically controversial tasks, and pressure on the Air Force increased.

Air defense

The Air Defense Command is organized according to the Soviet centralized model. The territory of Syria is divided into the Northern and Southern Air Defense Zones. There are three automated command posts to control the forces and means of air defense.

The backbone of the Syrian air defense forces are anti-aircraft missile units, united in 25 brigades and two separate regiments. Of the 25 anti-aircraft missile brigades, 11 are mixed on the S-75 and S-125M complexes, 11 brigades are equipped with 2K12 Kvadrat and Buk-M2E self-propelled air defense systems, and three brigades are equipped with 9K33M Osa-AK / AKM self-propelled short-range air defense systems (and, possibly, they receive the Pantsir-S1 air defense missile system). Both anti-aircraft missile regiments are armed with S-200VE long-range air defense systems. The brigades are partly separate, and partly they are combined into two air defense divisions (24th and 26th), subordinate to the commands of the southern and northern air defense zones. Air defense officers are trained at the Air Defense College.

Due to the complete obsolescence of the overwhelming part of the material part of the firepower, as well as insufficient training of personnel, the real combat potential of the Syrian air defense is now very low and, in fact, the Syrian air defense forces are unable to provide effective protection of the country's territory from the actions of modern enemy air forces. This was shown by the repeated provocative overflights of the Syrian territory by Israeli aviation, including Damascus, as well as the unpunished destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility by the Israeli Air Force in 2007. The situation began to change in 2010 for the better for the Syrians with the beginning of the entry into service of the Russian Buk-M2E air defense missile systems. and ZRPK "Pantsir-S1", modernized ZRK S-125M, MANPADS "Igla-S". However, the number of new systems is clearly not enough, while the bulk of Syria's air defense systems will still remain obsolete and increasingly losing their combat significance.


The semi-rudimentary naval forces of Syria retain mainly the Soviet materiel of the 1960-1970s. and have extremely low potential. In recent years, the development of the Navy is under the influence of the Iranian doctrines of the "small war", which was expressed in the acquisition of small combat boats built by Iran and the DPRK. In fact, the main potential of the Navy is now the coastal defense brigade, which has received two divisions of the latest Russian supersonic anti-ship missile systems Bastion-P, Iranian coastal anti-ship missile systems, and also retains the Soviet coastal missile systems Redut and Rubezh.

Weapons of mass destruction

Israeli sources consider Syria the owner of the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the Middle East, believing that the Syrians are thereby trying to provide some kind of "response" to Israel's nuclear potential.

For the first time, the Syrian authorities officially recognized the presence of chemical and biological weapons in the country on July 23, 2012.

The presence of chemical weapons is considered a deterrent against Israel, and currently against possible aggression by Western countries. According to CIA estimates, Syria is capable of producing up to several hundred tons of sarin, herd, VX and mustard gas per year, and has 5 factories for the production of toxic substances (in Safir, Hama, Homs, Latakia and Palmyra). There are estimates by the Center for Strategic and International Studies for 2000 that the stocks of chemical weapons in Syria are up to 500-1000 tons, including sarin, VX, blister agents.

On July 26, 2007, an explosion occurred at an arms depot near Aleppo, killing at least 15 Syrians. The Syrian authorities said that this explosion was accidental and had nothing to do with chemical weapons, while the American magazine Jane's Defense Weekly, expressed the version that the explosion occurred when Syrian military personnel tried to equip the R-17 missile with a mustard gas warhead.

The main delivery vehicles for chemical weapons are the R-17 (Scud), Luna-M and Tochka (SS-21) operational-tactical missile systems. Three missile brigades have 54 launchers and, presumably, up to 1,000 missiles.

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The country's military industry is poorly developed. It is mainly represented by enterprises for the production of ammunition and the repair of military equipment, built in the 1970-1980s. with the help of the USSR and the countries of the socialist camp. This is due to the fact that earlier Syria received all the weapons in excess from the USSR.

Organization, goals and objectives

The supreme commander of the Syrian army is President Assad. He heads the country's highest military-political body - the National Security Council (SNB), which includes the ministers of defense and internal affairs, heads of special services. If necessary, other members of the government and military leaders take part in the meetings of the Council. The National Security Council develops the main directions of military policy and coordinates the activities of organizations and institutions related to the country's defense.

The military command system is highly centralized and completely subordinated to the authority of Assad. It is believed that the army is controlled very rigidly, orders are taken to execute "inside and out." This has its pros and cons - for example, it is useful if the enemy deprives some of the communication and control, but it also leads to inertia and lack of flexibility in solving the tasks at hand.

General Fahed Jassem al-Freij has been the Minister of Defense and Deputy Supreme Commander-in-Chief since July 2012.

Military planning and direct command and control of troops are carried out by the General Staff. The Chief of the General Staff is the first deputy minister of defense and the commander of the ground forces. Since July 2012, this position has been held by Lieutenant General Ali Abdallah Ayyub.

Previous Defense Minister Daud Rajikha and Chief of the General Staff Asef Shaukat were killed in a terrorist attack on July 18, 2012.

The territory of the SAR is divided into seven military districts - coastal, northern, southern, eastern, western, southwestern, central, and capital.

The ground forces are united in three army corps; the main ones are the 1st and 2nd, which are on the line of contact with Israel, and the 3rd is auxiliary-reserve and was responsible for the seaside, Turkish and Iraqi directions. The 1st Army Corps included the 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th Armored Divisions and the 7th Mechanized Division. The 2nd Army Corps included the 1st, 3rd, 11th Armored and 4th and 10th Mechanized Divisions. Each of the buildings also has separate parts - artillery and special forces regiments.

According to known data, the 5th Armored Division, as well as the 4th Mechanized Division, which is considered elite and especially loyal to Assad, play the main role in ensuring internal security during the Arab Spring. The armored division of the Republican Guard, which is the military "life guard" of the regime, remains essential.

It is believed that the Syrian army gravitates towards the tactics of positional defense, and mobility and the ability to rapidly build up forces in the main direction at the moment is not its strong point.

In addition, the border with Turkey and Iraq was mainly covered by units of the 3rd Army Corps - loose, consisting of reserve and cadre units, the core of which was the “collapsed” 2nd Armored Division. Back in December 2011, it became known that the Turkish side, with the support of NATO specialists, is preparing a massive penetration of groups of militants into Syrian territory, including fighters from Libya transferred to Turkey by the military transport aircraft of the alliance. Most likely, the Syrian government forces cannot seriously prevent this infiltration, especially since instructors from NATO countries are organizing intelligence and communications of the guerrillas.

The available information about the Syrian armed forces suggests that the greatest importance was attached to the preparation of a powerful positional defense in the Golan region and a poorly trained reserve - apparently, so that the Israeli army, in the event of a war, would get bogged down in a deep defense of the SAR armies that significantly outnumber it., faced a powerful protest from the Israeli society and made concessions without being defeated by Syria.

An integral part of the anti-Israeli strategy were plans to transfer part of the armed forces (special forces division) to Lebanon to organize sabotage operations from the territory of this country. Defense of the Turkish border was of secondary importance, and little attention was paid to the defense of the long border with Iraq (except for 1991, when Syria took a limited part in Operation Desert Shield).

From a formal point of view (the number and quantity of weapons), the Syrian army by 2011 could be considered one of the most powerful in the region. However, the lack of funding, the poor technical condition of a significant part of the equipment, the evasion of citizens from military service led to the fact that by the beginning of the uprising, the country's army was largely unprepared.

In addition, some of the weapons were lost to the Syrian army during the fighting. Considering that all information about the losses of the armed forces during the fighting is completely closed by the censor, it is not possible to accurately assess the real number of weapons systems in service.

The country's military doctrine did not meet the new realities either. Preparing for a full-scale war with Israel required large formations and a mobilization deployment. However, mobilization would have led to a massive appearance in the army of people disloyal to the regime, would have become a de facto recognition of the civil war, and therefore the leadership of Syria did not dare to take this step.

It is worth noting that the solution of internal security problems was the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies and civilian special services of the country, the General Directorate of Security and the Directorate of Political Security of Syria. However, it is obvious that the special services failed to cope with the tasks of suppressing the financing of the opposition, the supply of weapons and explosives from abroad and the infiltration of militants, and the suppression of the resistance went beyond their capabilities. Therefore, the army was forced to reorient itself in a short time to solving anti-sabotage tasks, conducting clean-up operations, filtering the population, conducting police and punitive operations.

Previously, the possibility of using the army against political opposition was provided for in the country's Constitution. According to article 11 of the 1964 constitution, the army was supposed to defend the ideas of Ba'athism and the revolutionary gains of the Syrian people. The same article gave the authorities legal grounds to use the army not only against an external enemy, but also inside Syria against the enemies of the revolution. At the same time, the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party had a monopoly on the implementation of the ideas of the revolution, according to article 8 of the constitution. For the indoctrination of the personnel of the armed forces, an extensive system of political bodies operated in them, under the leadership of the Political Directorate of the Armed Forces, created in 1971. As part of the 2012 constitutional reform carried out by the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, the article on the leadership role of the party was canceled and, accordingly, the clauses on the role of the army as the protector of the ruling party were canceled. The political department was disbanded, and its employees mostly joined the ranks of the special services.


The recruitment and quality of personnel training, presumably, are significantly affected by the chronic underfunding of the army.

The Syrian army is conscript, the service life was 30 months until 2005, then 24 months, and in 2011 it was reduced to 18 months. Presumably, such a populist measure may indicate not the greatest confidence in the army.

It is believed that the training of conscripts is poorly delivered due to insufficient material resources of Syria, primarily fuel and ammunition, they were mainly trained in positional defense and garrison service. The populist measure to further reduce the service life exacerbated the problem of low qualifications of military personnel. At the same time, with the outbreak of hostilities, discussion of the quality of the conscript army and the need to switch to a contract basis in the press was practically prohibited.

There is no reliable information about the moral and volitional qualities of the conscript army in Syria, since the press is forbidden to be interested in this topic.

Before the start of the uprising in Syria, there was an extensive system of initial military training for pre-conscription youth in secondary schools and universities. NCOs were trained in special schools. At the same time, some of the sergeant positions were recruited at the expense of graduates of higher educational institutions, who, after graduation, were required to serve in the army.

It is known, however, that military service was unpopular, they tried to avoid it at the slightest opportunity, since most families do not live well and there are no extra workers. At the same time, since 1953, the practice of buying off military service has been in effect, which was widely used by more or less wealthy Syrians. And due to the general relatively favorable demographic situation in the country, there was no significant shortage of armed forces before the start of the revolutionary events.

On the whole, young people, like the rest of society, on the eve of the events were especially inclined to be frustrated due to the unsightly state of the economy and the lack of a modernization program or at least paternal charisma in the younger Assad.

Chances are, the quality of preparation and the level of morale may differ from part to part.It is believed that there is a stratification between senior and junior officers - the former are more likely to perceive their careers as "business", the latter are irritated by the lack of prospects and demonstrative neglect on the part of their superiors.

All this is not new and is very deeply rooted, as evidenced by the pace of reforms that began in the early nineties and continued to this day with varying success. The reforms were initiated by Hafez Assad, who aimed primarily at gaining the loyalty of the army to the younger Assad. The current president continued the reforms, aiming at modernizing the system, but the lack of financial resources and the rootedness of the "old guard" and its orders in the army greatly reduce the effectiveness of the reforms - possibly almost to zero.

Two military academies are involved in the training of officers for the Syrian Armed Forces: the Higher Military Academy in Damascus and the Military Technical Academy. H. Assad in Aleppo, as well as military colleges: infantry, tank, field artillery, air force, naval, air defense, communications, engineering, chemical, artillery weapons, electronic warfare, rear, political, military police. In addition, there is a women's college for the training of female officers. However, with the outbreak of the uprising, officer training was largely paralyzed.

The most prepared are units of the Special Forces and the Republican Guard. Their functions, apparently, initially included not only repelling external aggression, but also combating internal threats. This, in particular, is evidenced by reports of the constant transfer of the same units throughout the country, from one hotbed of protests to another. At the same time, even the elite units are poorly equipped with modern means of communication, personal protection, navigation, electronic warfare and electronic suppression of signals from mine explosive devices.

One gets the feeling that the need to fight any kind of insurgents was unexpected for the Syrian military. In addition, internal security issues are not supervised by them, but by the special services, and if it came to the infiltration of "professional" militants from Libya, and even with the participation of Western instructors, it means that the "muhabarat" (special services) have very much launched the situation and the hope for the army, firstly, the latter, and secondly, weak.

In terms of the number of personnel, the London Institute of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) draws the following conclusions. At the beginning of the conflict, the land forces themselves numbered about 200-220 thousand people, while the total number of the armed forces of the SAR was about 300 thousand people. Every day during the fighting, 50-100 people are killed and wounded (i.e. about 20 or even more thousand people in 2012; according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - the only one available, since the official authorities do not announce losses - only for During the confrontation, the armed forces of the SAR lost 14, 8 thousand people dead). A certain number of fighters and commanders defect, a certain number do not fulfill their duties or even cooperate with the rebels. The call of reservists does not solve the problem - someone dodges, someone does not know how to do anything. Thus, it is unlikely that more than 100 thousand people out of 200 thousand can be considered combat-ready and effective. Of these hundreds, conditionally half are not directly involved in hostilities, but guard the borders, warehouses, bases, convoys and convoys, serve on patrols and at checkpoints. Successful insurgent attacks on military bases, airfields, storage facilities and convoys show that the loyalists are severely understaffed. Thus, presumably Assad has only 50 thousand reliable and combat-ready bayonets - most likely, these are actually his fellow Alawites from the Republican Guard and Special Forces, as well as elite divisions with combat-ready armored vehicles and more or less trained crews.About 50,000 more reservists were allegedly trained in one way or another by the joint efforts of the Syrian army, Iranian advisers and Hezbollah camps, but it is not possible to verify this thesis.

Confessional specificity

Under the previous president, Hafez Assad, the system of internal relations in the army was clearly balanced taking into account the confessional characteristics of Syria, while the manifestations of religious characteristics were suppressed. Any religious symbols and paraphernalia in the army were prohibited. Collective prayers at the location of army units were allowed only in 2002, and even then to conscripts. At the same time, the top leadership of the armed forces belonged to the Alawite minority of the population. 70% of the top military leadership of the army and intelligence services were Alawites, and the remaining 30% were evenly distributed among Sunnis, Christians, Druze and Ismailis.

With the arrival of Bashar al-Assad, the process of changing the confessional balance in the army and special services began (largely under pressure from the opposition, representing the Sunni majority). In June 2009, for the first time in the history of modern Syria, Christian General Daud Rajikha became the chief of the General Staff of the SAR Armed Forces. However, the change in the confessional command structure of units and formations has become much more important. While most of the top military leadership of the army and special services continued to be Alawites, the percentage of Sunnis among the command of the "second echelon" (commanders and chiefs of staff of divisions and brigades, a number of operational departments, special services) increased from 30 to 55%.

So, if in 2000 35% of division commanders came from the Sunni community, then by mid-2010 this figure had changed and amounted to 48%. Among the leadership of different levels of various departments of the General Staff, the number of Sunnis increased from 38% in 2000 to 54-58% in 2010. An even greater increase in the number of Sunnis was observed in the years before the uprising, among the middle command staff. The percentage of Sunni officers serving as battalion commanders rose from 35% in 2000 to 65% by mid-2010.

Under Assad, a new strategy was introduced for the formation of a "mixed command of the army and special services." It was based on the principle: if the commander of a unit is Alawite, then his chief of staff is most often Sunni, and the chief of counterintelligence is Christian or Druze, and vice versa. The new strategy was associated with a change in the regime's policy on the confessional issue from the point of view of providing Sunnis and other (non-Alawite) confessions with great opportunities for professional and career growth in areas previously closed to them.

However, instead of the alleviation of ethnic tensions planned by Assad, such a policy, together with the country's economic problems, produced exactly the opposite result. The Sunni majority now in the ranks of the armed forces began to show discontent, demanding the expansion of their powers and rights. The result was the rapid disintegration of the army and soon the ruling regime, when suppressing the outbreak of the uprising, was forced to rely on units staffed mainly by non-Sunni minorities - the Republican Guard division, special forces units, and the air force squadron. It is widely believed among the non-Sunni population that if the opposition (consisting mainly of Sunnis and representatives of radical Islam) wins, they will be subjected to persecution or even reprisals. These sentiments are transmitted to non-Sunni units of the armed forces and are the main factor in maintaining their combat effectiveness and loyalty to the regime.


According to the opposition, the army is torn apart by strong contradictions, there are frequent cases of desertion, the refusal of officers to obey orders of higher commanders.

It is possible that there were also clashes of army units with different attitudes towards the regime, but the leadership of the Armed Forces categorically denies all reports of possible disobedience of the units.

As the protest movement turned into an insurgency, the number of cases of desertion grew.One of the first senior deserters was Colonel Riyad al-Assad, who, he said, joined the rebels in July 2011, unable to find the strength to shoot protesters. Colonel al-Asad (pronounced "As-ad", the pause imitates guttural throat; unlike the surname of Syrian President Assad) headed the so-called Free Syrian Army, in December 2012 he was replaced by Brigadier General Salim Idris.

The explosive growth in desertions begins in January 2012, when the number of deserters reached nine. In March 2012, their total number for the entire time of the confrontation was already 18 people, in June - 28, in September - 59. As of the end of December 2012, according to Al-Jazeera, the number of "significant" deserters was 74 people. including 13 diplomats, 4 parliamentarians, 3 ministers, 54 security officials. As for the security forces, it is customary to record their refusal to support the regime on video and publish on YouTube. These videos often show the flag of the Free Syrian Army. In this regard, the data of Qatar TV appear to be reliable. According to the Turkish press, from the beginning of the conflict to November 2012, a total of over 40 generals of the Syrian Armed Forces fled from Syria to Turkey.

The reasons for the disobedience of the security forces can only be guessed at. Themselves they call the main unwillingness to carry out clearly criminal, from their point of view, orders. Apparently, a certain decisive moment for at least some of them are reports of tank or air strikes of loyalists on the native places of deserters.

Note also that some of the deserters report supporting them for some time before they openly sided with the rebels.

Tactics and strategy of the parties

A widespread protest movement and clashes between demonstrators and the police and the army unfolded in Syria in March 2011 and lasted for several months. In the fall of 2011, it became obvious that the regime could not be overthrown in a relatively peaceful way; at the same time, the special services, the army and the “people's vigilantes” apparently allowed an increase in social violence and slept through the appearance of full-fledged insurgent groups on the country's territory.

During the "Battle of Homs" (and, in particular, the particularly fierce fighting for the Baba Amr area) in February 2012, the Syrian army used the tactics that it uses in the fight against the insurgents to this day. Within the framework of this model, the area controlled by the militants is surrounded by loyalist forces, checkpoints are organized, artillery and air strikes are carried out, targets (identified and selected at random) are fired upon by tanks. At the same time, the district is cut off from electricity, gas, sewage, and the delivery of food and necessities is blocked. After the main resistance has been suppressed (or seems to be), armored vehicles and motorized riflemen move into the neighborhoods to clear every house. They are accompanied by snipers and militias from the Shabih “people's militia”. Apparently, the bombings lead to the fact that the majority of the population of the region is trying to leave the area under fire, so the loyalists during the cleansing operations proceed from the fact that only “enemies” remain. It is reported that men discovered during the sweeps are considered militants by default - they are subjected to checks and filtering, often tortured and killed on the slightest suspicion of insurgency.

At the same time, the militants are capable of resisting for a long time and skillfully as long as they have food and ammunition. When the preponderance of power is on the side of the loyalists (and this takes quite a long time - often weeks), the militants disappear into the landscape. Since the government army is able to more or less control only important settlements, the rebels, most likely, never or almost never are completely blocked and are able to retreat to rest, treatment and replenishment of supplies to their camps and bases. Presumably, they enjoy the support of a part of the population and some representatives of the civil administration and even the military. There are references to the fact that the army commanders on the ground and the leaders of the militants in the course of specific clashes are negotiating, concluding agreements of various kinds - on a ceasefire, on the exchange of prisoners, and so on.

During the confrontation, the rebels rapidly increased their tactical arsenal to the level of a full-fledged guerrilla. They successfully carry out lightning attacks ("hit-and-run"), managing to inflict damage on the enemy not expecting an attack and dissolve before the arrival of reinforcements to the loyalists; arrange ambushes, are engaged in the targeted elimination of commanders, representatives of the civil administration, leaders of public opinion (often blaming the murder on the loyalists); suicide bombers are widely used. The rebels skillfully use sniper and anti-tank weapons, various mines, and lay improvised explosive devices. The effectiveness of Assad's aviation is reduced due to the threat of the use of small arms and MANPADS at low-flying targets.

The rebels also successfully attack the columns on the march. Loyalist tactics, requiring the concentration of the most combat-ready forces to block the hotbeds of insurgency, in the face of a shortage of trained fighters, forces the Syrian Armed Forces to leave bases, warehouses, and convoys of equipment without proper qualified cover. Even in the conditions of a flat straight road in a flat desert terrain, trained militants (including representatives of Al-Qaeda, who have experience of hostilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc.) manage to destroy, for example, several Kvadrat air defense missile systems in one attack.

It is reported that the United States has organized courses for militants in Jordan, where they are trained to use anti-tank weapons and air defense systems. The first "release" is expected in the near future.

Presumably, the Syrian authorities are trying to deal with hotbeds of insurgency separately, preventing them from expanding and "merging" into large zones free from government control. At the same time, Assad, apparently, requires commanders to avoid actions that could provoke an excessive intensity of the struggle and turn the conflict into a full-scale civil war. In addition, there are a number of "red lines", the transition of which by the loyalists may give rise to foreign intervention - the use or loss of control over weapons of mass destruction, hostilities on the borders and damage to neighboring states, etc.

Judging by how the zone of insurgent activity and the territory of hostilities is expanding, the fight against hotbeds is not effective enough to suppress the uprising. Apparently, the regime is concentrating its limited forces on ensuring control and relative security of Damascus, the Alawite territories in the west of the country, the Aleppo-Idlib-Hama-Homs-Damascus-Deraa-Jordan border and Aleppo-Deir ez-Zor-Iraqi border lines as well as energy infrastructure and important agricultural areas in the east. These efforts (and hostilities) end up concentrated in major population centers and along important highways, and much of the country is poorly or uncontrolled. In the past few months, the Syrian army has effectively left the territory of the Kurds.

As for the rebels, their strategy is very specific. The opposition does not have a unified command and decision-making center; the groupings, battalions, brigades and "armies" operating within it are actually united by only one goal - to overthrow the regime.

Apparently, neither professional Islamist fighters, nor deserters, nor the local self-defense militia find a common language with each other. That said, there is almost certainly friction between jihadists from Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and former members of the Syrian army. In addition, there are reports that jihadists from Hezbollah may act on the side of Assad, and Sunni militants infiltrate from Syria into neighboring Iraq, where they cooperate with local Sunni rebels, irritating the Shiite authorities in Baghdad, which sympathizes with the rebels in Syria too. does not add.However, this disunity, although it leads to a steady weakening of the Assad regime and the forces of the loyalists, provokes the transformation of the conflict from a "popular uprising against the despot" (as was the case in Libya) into a full-fledged civil war, in which the loyalists turn not into a stronghold of tyranny, but into a major player among other players. This confuses the conflict and threatens to plunge the country into chaos where there may be no winners.

This rebel configuration has one big plus and one big minus. First, the lack of a unified command and the desire to capture and hold as many settlements as possible leads to the fact that the rebels are virtually impossible to break: as soon as you press on them in one place, they dissolve and accumulate forces in another point, exhausting the regular army and gnawing pieces of it here and there. Secondly, the rebels are aware that strong support from abroad and no less powerful pressure on Assad from the same place have long been required. Ideally, a foreign strike, like the operation in Libya. However, the western sponsors of the rebels demand that they unite and form a single command - without this, the rebels cannot receive massive support, either political or military.

Thus, strategically, both sides are unable to gain the upper hand. Government forces are fatigued and suffered casualties as they chase rebels through cities and lose strength during sweeps and maneuvers. The rebels bite loyalists outside the cities and organize attacks on one or another important city - but they cannot build on their success and even once defeat the loyalists. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that the rebels are waiting for the balance to slowly slide to their side. So far, they have achieved the fact that the loyalists are no longer able to win, but as soon as the rebels begin to try to hold on to settlements and establish control over them, the likelihood of tactical defeats for them will increase. Therefore, now they, apparently, expect that the regular army will continue to lose strength, and at some point will simply lose the ability to knock out the rebels. In addition, the rebels are trying to provoke the loyalists to take some action that would give rise to a foreign intervention.

Interestingly, on March 25, 2013, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an organization designed to rally a scattered opposition, resigned from his post. Its head, Ahmed Muaz al-Khatib, explained his act very vaguely: "I promised the great Syrian people and Lord God that I would resign if things reach a certain red line." At the same time, al-Khatyb's resignation was not accepted by the National Coalition of Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces. On the same day, it became known that the former commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riyad al-Assad, was seriously injured in Deir ez-Zor when an explosive device hidden in his car went off. He is believed to have undergone a leg amputation and is undergoing medical treatment outside Syria.

Syria, Daraya, March 2013 Photo by Mikhail Leontiev

Syrian armed forces on the eve and during the uprising in the republic (2011-2013)

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