Middle East

Syria’s diminished security forces

Ammunition is seen at an area controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at the front line during clashes with opposition fighters during a guided tour by the Syrian Army in the Damascus suburb of Jobar, August 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

PARIS: The following is a breakdown of estimated security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to the The Military Balance 2013, published in March by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

On paper the Syrian army remains one of the biggest in the Middle East, but its fighting capacity has been cut roughly in half by the country’s civil war, the IISS estimates. Troops: The Syrian army consists in theory of 178,000 troops, including 110,000 in the army, 5,000 in the navy, 27,000 in the air force and 36,000 in air defenses. In 2009, the total number was estimated at 325,000, of which 220,000 were army troops.

“The nominal pre-war strength of the army has likely been reduced by half: the result of a combination of defections, desertions and casualties,” IISS experts said. “Most formations are now understrength. Some brigades are reported to have been disbanded because of either political unreliability or heavy casualties.”

Owing to disorganization stemming from the civil war, the IISS said it was unable at present to accurately estimate the strength of Syrian paramilitary forces, which have played a key role in the fighting.

In 2009, they were estimated at 108,000, including 8,000 in the gendarmerie, under the authority of the Interior Ministry, and 100,000 in the popular militia of the Baath party.

As regards reservists, Syria’s army has 314,000 troops, while there are 4,000 in the navy, 10,000 in the air force and 20,000 in the air defenses.

Structure: The ground army has seven armored divisions in principle, three mechanized infantry divisions, two special forces divisions and a Republican Guard. The fighting capacity of the special forces and the Republican Guard is considered to be superior to that of the regular army.

The IISS estimates that with special forces dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority, the Republican Guard and the 3rd and 4th army divisions, the regime is backed by 50,000 elite troops.

Equipment: the army is equipped with mainly Russian-made materiel, and included 4,950 tanks when fighting began.

It has nonetheless suffered “significant losses of armor, while the air force has also lost some combat aircraft and helicopters.”

Syria has a large arsenal of missiles, the command of which is based in the northern city of Aleppo.

The navy has two frigates. The air force has in principle 365, mainly Soviet-built, fighter planes. They numbered 555 in 2009.

“The level of readiness of a significant element of the air force’s combat aircraft inventory is likely poor,” the IISS noted.

Air defense units appear to have been the least affected by the fighting, and are equipped with several thousand Russian ground-air missiles, including some recent and potentially effective models.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 28, 2013, on page 3.

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