The Syrian Arab Army and Airforce are the National armed forces fighting for President Assad’s government but there are many other associated militias, both native and foreign, actively fighting the opposition to Assad’s government.
Main stream media reports are surprisingly lacking in information, often using a vague term of Shabiha or paid thugs and numbering just a few thousand.
The link below is from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace giving a fairly recent overview of who the pro-Assad militias are.
Like an earlier post ‘Who are the Syrian rebels now?’ on The WIDER View found here, additional information will be added under each group name to provide further context.
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace article (02 March 2015) – Who Are the Pro-Assad Militias?:
National Defence Force:
Because of the relative autonomy of groups operating within this coalition across Syria, like opposition groups, there have been reports of sectarian based violence in towns or villages once held by opposition groups that the NDF have captured.
- Human Rights Watch article (13 Sep 2013) – Summary Executions by Syrian Forces in al-Bayda and Baniyas:
The NDF is predominantly made up of ethnic Syrians and joining the NDF appears to be the preferred choice of young fighting age males due to the Syrian Army seen to be suffering after 5 years of conflict. They get a salary from the government and are deployed locally rather than far off some where in Syria.
Some groups are run along sectarian lines, others run along political lines meaning that the NDF is made up of varying ethnic backgrounds.
There is no jurisdiction by Syria’s military courts over the varying militias and some groups or individuals have and will capitalise on this in the fog of war.
If the Assad government manages to hold on and eventually defeat the majority of the opposition with the help of Russia, Iran and Iraq, will any previously committed sectarian violence by NDF groups be forgotten about or will it help in perpetuating continued violence?
The Baath Battalions:
The current head of the Baath Battalions is Basem Sudan and they are made up of and controlled by the incumbent Baath Arab Socialist Party.
It’s ranks have apparently swollen due to a revised conscription drive by the government in which fighters could be based locally. This has also diversified the group further adding differing sects and tribes into the mix.
They began by manning checkpoints but soon started to operate in close co-ordination with Syrian Army groups like the Republican Guards and the separate NDF militias.
This close co-operation with the army could be seen as unconstitutional as the government is supposed to be separate from the Syrian Arab Army according to the constitutionally enshrined ‘leading party in state and society’.
The Jerusalem Brigade:
The Jerusalem Brigade or al Quds Brigades is the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist Organization
It also operates in Syria but information about their operations is not easily accessible but they have clashed with opposition groups in and around Aleppo along with the Baath Battalions.
Updates will be added as more information is acquired. It does show however the mix of interests and allegiances even among differing sects in the Syrian War.
The Syrian Resistance:
The group allegedly has far left Marxist – Leninist ideology with particular reverence given to communist resistance. It claims to have members from all religions, sects and ethnicities including Sunni Muslims and Christians.
Its leader has called for the cleansing of Sunni areas previously and the group is thought to have a particular focus on protecting Shi’a areas.
They reportedly helped in pushing back an offensive in 2013 by opposition groups in Latakia, allegedly led predominantly by Chechen, Afghan, Libyan, Saudi and Gulf fighters. The aim of the opposition offensive was to capture and clear Alawite villages including Assad’s ancestral village of Qardaḥa by Eid.
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party:
The SSNP for short is a nationalist political party formed in Lebanon way back in 1932 advocating the formation of a greater Syrian state spanning Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, Kuwait, parts of Turkey and Iran.
They describe themselves as a civil movement that transcends sects and combats extremism, secular but not anti-religious and seeking to establish a secular state.
They are known to have been operating in the governorates of Homs and Damascus and known to fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army and with the ideological opposite, Hezbollah.
They have taken part in suicide bombings and armed operations mainly targeted against Israel during the long standing unrest between the two nations and of course the on going Palestinian troubles.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command:
The PFLP-GC for short is a leftist Palestinian nationalist group formed after the six day war with Israel in 1967 and is seen among western countries as a radical group.
They are known to have carried out terrorist attacks against Israel previously, internationally against a Swiss airliner in 1970 and a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in 1988.
Since the late 1980’s it has been largely inactive but has appeared in the Syrian civil war fighting on the side of the Syrian government.
Based in Damascus in the Yarmouk camp, home to apparently the largest population of Palestinian refugees in Syria, it clashed with anti-government Palestinians that allegedly set fire to its headquarters, killing a number of Palestinians and wounding more.
The situation simmered for a short time but worsened dramatically in the summer of 2012 when pro-government and anti-government forces began fighting in earnest.
They continue to operate in around the Yarmouk Camp District and recently reported to be assisting the PLA (Palestinian Liberation Army), Fatah al-Infitada and the NDF against alleged IS targets on 30th Street, Yarmouk Camp.
They have been criticised by other Palestinian groups including the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) for dragging Palestinians into the Syrian conflict.
Led by Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah is a Shi’a driven political and paramilitary group operating out of Lebanon.
It came to prominence in the Syrian conflict at the end of 2012, early 2013 as fighters were sent from Lebanon to support the Syrian Arab Army and openly began operating against the opposition in areas such as Qusair near the Lebanese border, Damascus suburbs and countryside.
It remained a low key presence in Syria during 2011 & 2012 until it escalated its presence in 2013 during a time when the Syrian Arab Army appeared to be losing ground to various opposition groups.
Following its large scale insertion into Syria it is widely accepted, even among western commentators, that the tide started to change in favour of the Syrian government due to its effective guerrilla combat heritage.
Despite its territorial gains in Syria during 2013, it was allegedly under strain with fighters stretched out over different fronts causing a change in rotation rules for its fighters from 7 days fighting, 7 days leave to 20 days fighting, 7 days leave. A number of senior commanders have also been killed in the Syrian war over the last two years.
It is a Shi’a Islamist militant group supported both financially and militarily by Iran according to the UN and deemed a terrorist organisation, either in part or wholly by some Western governments and the Sunni muslim majority Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).
It was formed to provide resistance following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and Israel’s continued occupation of South Lebanon until Israel’s withdrawal. It has continued to be a well armed fighting militia, its paramilitary wing previously being reported as more powerful than the Lebanese Army by the Washington Post.
Hezbollah led a guerrilla war against Israel including suicide attacks, assassinations and the capturing of IDF soldiers. Eventually Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 after inflicting significant damage itself.
Fighting units within Hezbollah are professionally trained receiving assistance from Iranian advisors. Their notoriety rose during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon ending with no decisive outcome for Israel.
This helped Hezbollah push the narrative that they stood up to the larger Israeli military machine. During this time they reportedly gained widespread support in Lebanon from different sects according to The Christian Science Monitor article from 28 July 2006 and The Washington Post article from 30 July 2006 below:
It reportedly partakes in various development programmes in Lebanon, running hospitals, news services, investing in infrastructure and collecting rubbish. It effectively runs a state within a state helping to solidify its position within Lebanon.
Hezbollah follows a distinct brand of Shi’a ideology that was originally developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Its principles and Ideology are further laid out in the this link which is a translated open letter by Hezbollah titled ‘The Hezbollah Programme: To the downtrodden in Lebanon and the World’.
Hezbollah have amended their statements in following years to reflect an inclusive outlook and non-sectarian, although militarily supporting a shi’a sect in President Assad’s government against a majority Sunni opposition is questionable. They attempt to counter this by saying that they are preventing extreme Sunni groups from taking over and threatening Lebanon.
Originally formed in Iraq but has been operating in Syria around 2013 on wards. It is a well trained proxy of Iran that accepted the Khomeini Shi’a ideology, allegedly developed and trained by Iran’s IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
With groups such as the Badr Brigades and other Iranian proxies involved in the Syrian conflict such as Kataib Hezbollah, it indicates at least in part a sectarian divide in areas of Syria in which Iran looks to bolster the Shi’a side.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been concerned about the encirclement of their respective countries by other Sunni or Shi’a neighbours, Syria is of geo-political importance to all that are involved.
Iran’s IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps):
The IRGC is the external military arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran tasked fundamentally with the protection of the countries Islamic system. That system being the distinct brand of Shi’a ideology that was originally developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
It is known to provide support to militias and state military such as in Iraq and Syria currently both in terms of advisory roles and active military personnel. It is a combined force of infantry, naval, air force, intelligence, special forces units that have acted covertly in foreign countries in support of Iran’s national and strategic interests.