Syrian Arab Army - Manpower
The vast majority of manpower for the armed forces came from male conscription, which has been compulsory and universal (only the small Jewish community is exempted) since 1946 and was officially reaffirmed by the Service of the Flag Law in 1953. Females are not required to serve, although some do; however, they play more a public relations than a military role. Males must register for the draft at 18; each year around 125,000 reach 19, which is when the 30-month conscription period begins. In 1985 it was estimated that of the country's population of over 10 million, 1.25 million were males fit for military service.
Before the rise to power of the Baath Party in 1963, middle and upper class youths, who have rarely been attracted to military service, were often exempted from conscription on payment of a fee. Since then, this practice has been eliminated, although youths living abroad in Arab countries continued to be exempted on payment of a fee set by law. University students were exempted, but many attended military training camps during the summer, and all were obligated to do military service upon completion of their studies. Observers stated that those conscripted in the mid-1980s represented a broad cross section of society.
The most commonly heard complaint about mandatory conscription is the uneven way in which exemptions to mandatory service are applied by local military conscription boards, including allegations that corruption plays a role in allowing some young men to avoid military service. Regardless of socio-economic background, young Syrian men agree military conscription nets disproportionate numbers of the uneducated and the poor. The conscripts in the army are Bedouin, Kurdish, or poor. Students, mainly sons of the middle class without the financial resources or foreign language skills to take advantage of exemptions for those studying or working abroad while they are of military age, harshly criticize the way in which local military conscription boards applied exemptions to service.
The government has twice reduced the time of service - from 2.5 years to 24 months in 2005 and again to 21 months in 2009 - reportedly due in part to popular opposition to forced conscription. University students can postpone their military service until after graduation, a rule many college students take advantage of. In addition to only sons, men "infected with chronic disease or other maladies preventing the infected from exerting any efforts" are exempted. Expatriate Syrians can avoid conscription if they pay $6,500, a sum reduced from $15,000 in 2009. Young Syrian men report these exemptions are applied unevenly by local military conscription boards, and some allege bribery can keep a young man out of the army.
Conscripts faced a series of options in the Syrian Army. After completion of his period of conscription, a man could enlist for five years in the regular service or, if he chose not to enlist, he would serve as a reservist for eighteen years. If he enlisted and became a noncommissioned officer during his fiveyear service, he could become a professional noncommissioned officer. A volunteer who did not attain noncommissioned officer status could reenlist but was automatically discharged after fifteen years of service or upon reaching age forty. A professional noncommissioned officer was retired at age fortyfive or, at his own request, after twenty years of service.
Conscripts and enlisted men generally lacked mechanical and technical skills, although beginning in the 1970s the number of conscripts who had completed the six years of primary school increased dramatically, as did the number of secondary and vocational school graduates. The rugged rural origin of most conscripts has conditioned them to endure hardship and accept strict discipline. Military service has given most recruits the opportunity to improve their health and, because they receive technical training during most of their active duty, to leave the service with a marketable skill.
Officers have tended to be less representative of the general society than conscripts, primarily because of the high degree of politicization of the officer corps. Although officers were not required to join the Baath Party, membership was a crucial factor for advancement to flag rank.
In addition to political loyalty, the officer corps was characterized by the dominance of the Alawi and Druze minorities, a condition dating from the French Mandate policy of recruiting these and other minority groups into the colonial military forces. Although many of the officers were Sunni Muslim, most of the key senior posts were held by Alawis.
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