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Syrian Arab Army - Organization

In 1987 the army had nine divisional formations. The major development in force organization was establishment of an additional divisional framework based on the special forces and organization of ground formations into two corps. The army's active manpower served in two all-arms army corps, five armored divisions (with one independent armored brigade), three mechanized divisions, one infantry-special forces division, and ten airborne-special forces independent brigades.

The bulk of the forces controlled by the Army Command located in Damascus are organized into three army corps, composed of seven armored divisions and three mechanized divisions. The Army Command controls the elite Republican Guard Division, and a range of other formations, including two independent artillery brigades; two independent anti-tank brigades, and an independent tank regiment.

The two most important corps are the 1st and 2nd; the 3rd Corps is the most recently formed, and was established up to control a miscellany of units, including some reserve forces. By 2012 the Army was organized into three corps with seven armored divisions, three mechanized divisions, a special forces division, and one Republican Guard division. The Republican Guard armored division is comprised of three armored brigades and a division artillery regiment.

A typical armored division numbered roughly 8,000 soldiers and a mechanized division may include 11,000 personnel. The armored divisions each have two armored brigades, one mechanized infantry brigade and one division artillery regiment comprised of four battalions. The mechanized divisions each have one armored brigades, two mechanized brigades and a division artillery regiment also comprised of four battalions. By another account, each armored division consists of three armored brigades, one mechanized brigade and one artillery regiment, and each mechanized division consists of two armored brigades, two mechanized brigades and one artillery regiment, but detailed orders of battle do not reflect these extra armored brigades.

Mindful of the comparative success of Syrian commandos during the 1973 war, and in preparation for special operations against Israeli forces on the Golan, Syria places a particular emphasis on special forces. There is a Special Forces (SF) Command in Damascus, responsible for the 14th SF Division which controls four SF regiments - the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Some elements were deployed in Lebanon; others have a special focus on the Golan Heights. The Special Forces Command has at least three regiments, while other sources report as many as eleven regiments. It is not clear if a formal divisional headquarters exists or if for the sake of simplicity the three regiments have just been lumped together.

There are up to 10 independent SF regiments and it is understood that they come under the control of a Special Forces HQ based at al-Qutayfeh, about 25 miles northeast of Damascus. Elements of some units have a particular focus on protecting the approaches to Damascus. One regiment, Al Sa'iqa, specializes in counter-terrorism and a range of other special operations roles, with training provided by Russian Spetsnaz personnel. Special Forces have a particular role in internal security.

The Syrian Army may also have a parachute division with seven brigades, though there is some confusion on this point, and these may explain the discrepancy in reporting the number of special forces regiments. Finally, there are several independent units including a tank regiment, four infantry brigades, two anti-tank brigades, and two artillery brigades.

The 1,800-man Border Guard (sometimes designated as Desert Guard or Frontier Force) was also under Army Command and responsible for patrolling the nation's vast border areas.

The Air Defense Command, within the Army Command, but also composed of Air Force personnel, numbered approximately 60,000. It served in twenty air defense brigades (with approximately ninety-five SAM batteries) and two air defense regiments. The Air Defense Command had command access to interceptor aircraft and radar facilities.

A coastal defense brigade supports naval forces in defending against threats from the sea. It is equipped with SS-C-1Bs and SSC-3 surface-to-surface missiles. Three surface-to-surface missile brigades are each comprised of one FROG-7 battalion, a Scud-B/C battalion and a SS-21 battalion. Syria's total inventory of SSM launchers was estimated to include some 18 FROG-7s, 18 SS-21s, and 26 Scud Bs and Cs.

The Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) based in Syria comprises two brigades and comes under Syrian military control. Some elements of the PLA are reported to be deployed with Syrian forces in the Bekaa region of Lebanon and in the Tripoli area of north Lebanon. The PLA, which has Syrian officers and advisers, is said to number about 4,500 men. It is equipped with about 100 T-54/T-55 tanks, as well as multiple rocket launchers, AT-3 anti-tank guided missiles and Strela-2 (SA-7) light surface-to-air missiles. Artillery includes 105mm, 122mm and 152mm weapons.

The 1st Corps has its HQ at Damascus and its formations are deployed in the south of the country facing Israel. There is also a focus on the border with Jordan. The 1st Corps controls four armored divisions, designated the 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th; there is one mechanized division, the 7th. The 1st Corps maintains particularly strong defensive positions on the Golan Heights, facing across a demilitarized zone towards the heavily-fortified Israeli-held sector. The Syrian positions have been progressively strengthened since the early 1980s. Forces deployed here include a number of independent special forces regiments, which have units trained specially for operations against Israeli positions on the Golan, especially surveillance posts on Mount Hermon. The 9th Armd Div served in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.

The 2nd Corps is headquartered at Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon. It deploys units within Lebanon and covers the outskirts of Damascus and the region northwards to Homs. The corps is believed to comprise three armored divisions, the 1st, 3rd and 11th, and two mechanized divisions, the 4th and the 10th. Part of the role of the 2nd Corps is to protect the capital and to guard the regime from any hostile action by dissident military units - the 3rd Armored Division is one of the key units charged with the defense of Damascus.

The 3rd Corps is the most recently formed; its HQ is at Aleppo, and it covers the north of the country, including the regions bordering Turkey and Iraq. Third Corps is responsible for Hama, Turkey/Iraq borders, the Mediterranean coastline and tasked with protecting the complex of CBW and missile production and launch facilities. The main formation coming under the control of the 3rd Corps is the 2nd Reserve Armored Division; in addition there is a mix of independent armored and infantry units and a special forces regiment. Reserve forces also include two Cadre Motorized Divisions, two armor brigades, two independent armor Regiments, thirty Infantry Brigades, and three Artillery Brigades. Reservists training are reasonable, but the equipment is old, of poor quality and limited in quantity.

The Coastal Defense Brigade (CDB) also comes under the ambit of the 3rd Corps, but appears to operate essentially under naval command. The CDB is responsible for four missile battalions, one based at Latakia where the brigade has its HQ in the local naval base; the other three battalions are at Baniyas, Hamidieh and Tartous. Each battalion deploys batteries equipped with SS-C-1B Sepal and SS-C-3 Styx surface-to-surface missiles. Other units under the control of the CDB include two infantry brigades, an observation battalion and two artillery battalions whose equipment includes anti-aircraft guns.

In light of the concentration of Syrian forces in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and the concentration of forces in the Golan area, it is clear that the bulk of Syrian land forces are focused on, or are facing towards, Israel. There is also a focus on the border with Jordan but the biggest concentration of Syrian forces is in the Golan. The forces in the Golan occupy fortified positions facing across a UN-controlled buffer zone towards the Israeli-occupied sector, where Israel normally deploys at least two armored brigades.

It is believed that Syria has deployed its forces up to the limit set by the UN-sponsored agreement made following the 1973 ceasefire. This agreement permits 6,000 troops, 75 tanks and 36 artillery weapons (of 122mm caliber maximum) to be deployed within 10km of the UN-controlled area of separation between the two sides. In the zone 10-20km from the demarcation line, 450 tanks and 163 artillery weapons are permitted, although there is no limit on troop numbers. Syria has built up three major lines of defense to stop any Israeli push from the Golan towards Damascus. The first line, just 10km from the demarcation line, features earthworks, gun emplacements and minefields. There are also anti-tank obstacles creating `kill zones' in which advancing hostile armor can be eliminated. Syria has also built up its air defenses in the region and it is believed that `Scud' missile sites have been established in underground bunkers at points from which Israeli forces on the Golan would be within easy range.

In order to reinforce the security of the regime and protect the capital from any hostile action by dissident military units, two trusted armored divisions, the 3rd and the 4th, are deployed on the outskirts of Damascus. The 3rd Armored Division was commanded for many years by General Shafiq Fayyad, a cousin of the late President Hafez al-Assad. Units of this division played a key role in the suppression of Islamic dissident activity in the Aleppo area in the early 1980s. They were also among the units deployed in 1984 to block an abortive attempt by Hafez al-Assad's dissident brother Rifaat and his Defense Companies to seize control of Damascus. The 4th Armored Division is a relatively new formation which evolved from Rifaat al-Assad's Defense Companies. However, steps were taken to ensure that the division was entirely loyal to the regime.

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Page last modified: 21-03-2012 19:12:26 ZULU