When Syria’s popular protests sparked in 2011, the Syrian regime quickly used the military to suppress demonstrations initially and then confront the armed opposition fighters. This prolonged the military conflict and directly impacted the human resources of many military units. Military units suffered from defections, escape, non-joining, and the killing, wounding, and capturing of many soldiers. As a result of the successive military operations by opposition fighters in the early years of the revolution, the army also struggled on a logistical level, with equipment and its headquarters became strained. The military units were also affected by the redeployment operations carried out by the regime. The redeployment operations re-organized the regime’s military units, moving them from their original base location to other districts within Syria. This prompted the establishment of new formations by including units of different subordination within a new military body or unit.
On the other hand, the regime’s allies, Russia and Iran, were able to influence the general structure of the army and armed forces to varying degrees after their direct military intervention. For example, Iran formed militias outside the military structure and later incorporated relatively small local militias within military divisions giving Iran military influence within the ranks of the Syrian military. On the other hand, the Russian intervention had a more significant and more profound impact. Moscow supervised the training, armament, and development of military plans for most army units and formations, restructured some military units, and founded new military formations that are linked to Russia directly.
The mentionedchanges led to transformation in the army’s structure and power nodes, directly affecting the chain of command and the military hierarchy for orders within official or unofficial networks.
This paper seeks to shed light on the chain of command and decision making flow within official and unofficial networks, with a focus on the regime’s allies influence on the Syrian military institution as a whole. The “interactive figure” illustrates the path of commands through the Syrian military structure within theessential positions in the army, security services, and the interior ministry. The “interactive figure” also provides identification cards for the leaders of these units, and uncovers the subordination of each unit within the chain of command and orders.
As “President of the Republic and Supreme Commander of the Army and Armed Forces” per Article /105/ of the 2012 Constitution, Bashar al-Assad is the anchor point, the beginning of the chain of command, and the source of official orders. The Minister of Defense, General Ali Abdullah Ayoub, the Head of the National Security Bureau, Major General Ali Mamlouk, and the Minister of Interior, Major General Muhammad Rahmoun, are linked to him directly.
All appointments and promotions of commanders, directors, chiefs, and officers of all army and armed forces units, including the security services, are carried out through decrees and decisions issued personally by Bashar al-Assad. This happens at two levels: first, a routine bureaucratic level represented in issuing periodic promotions, transfers, and appointments according to the chain of command and official orders, and by consulting the National Security Bureau and the intelligence services, each according to its competence without any interference by the civil state agencies and institutions. The second level is through managing the equilibriums of the relationship with the regime’s allies and making appointments that take these relationships into account.
Although the decision-making mechanisms and hierarchy are clearly outlined, they are not binding for Assad to follow. He exceeds the issuing orders of any party, assisted by a broad power afforded to him by the constitution and laws regulating the army’s work. Additionally, the complex nature and structure of the regime (security, family, and sectarian considerations) often makes the decision-making mechanism a highly ambiguous process.
The National Security Bureau, headed by Major General Ali Mamlouk since July 2012, serves as the primary hub that links, supervises, coordinates, and directs the work of security.The Bureau holds a critical advisory role to Bashar al-Assad in all issues related to national security, negotiations, and other internal and external security affairs. Four main security agencies operate under its advisory with their various subordination; the Military Intelligence Division, Air Force Intelligence Department, General Intelligence Directorate, and Political Security Division.
The Military Intelligence Division reports directly to the General Staff, while the Air Force Intelligence Department belongs administratively to the Air Force and Air Defense Command. These two agencies are the largest and most powerful intelligence agencies that belong “officially” to the Ministry of Defense. On the other hand, the General Intelligence Directorate, also known as “State Security,” reports directly to the President of the Republic. The General Intelligence Directorate coordinates directly with the National Security Bureau. In terms of the Political Security Division, it belongs administratively to the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the Minister of Interior does not have any actual powers over the Political Security Division’s work, and only coordinates its administrative and logistical aspects. Instead, the Political Security Division is the one that monitors the entire Ministry of Interior, starting with the Minister of Interior and ending with the ministry’s most minor elements.
The heads of the four security agencies and their branches are appointed personally by the President of the Republic, without any interference by the civil state institutions or even informing them. The commanders of the Military and Air Intelligence agencies must be from the army’s ranks. As for the leaders of the General Intelligence and Political Security agencies, some of them may be secondment to the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Interior, in order to work in these agencies, which applies to all officers working in the intelligence services.
Currently, major generals that lead these four offices are; Kifah Melhem, Head of the Military Intelligence Division, Ghassan Ismail, Head of the Air Force Intelligence Department; Hussam Louka, Head of the General Intelligence Directorate; and Ghaith Deeb, Head of the Political Security Division. All of them are Military College graduates. Since their establishment in the 1970s (in their current form), the Military and Air Intelligence Agencies have been headed by officers from the Alawite sect, while officers in the General Intelligence and Political Security may be from other sects.
Since the beginning of 2018, the Ministry of Defense has been led by General Ali Abdullah Ayoub, a successor to General Fahd Jassim Al-Freij. The Minister of Defense is appointed by the President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces. The prime minister never interferes in this process. The Minister of Defense holds the position of Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces, as a Deputy Prime Minister, and a member of the Central Command and the Central Committee of the ruling Baath Party. The Ministry of Defense mainly supervises the General Staff and several offices and departments affiliated with it. It also coordinates with the ministries and state institutions on the affairs of the army and the armed forces in the aspects that require coordination.
The Chief of the General Staff of the Army and Armed Forces is usually occupied by the rank “General” and is appointed by the President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces. The Chief of Staff is also treated as a minister by the Military Service Law of 2003 and its amendments. He is the officer who controls the Ministry of Defense at a later time. This is a common trend, as all defense ministers since 1967 served as chiefs of the General Staff, before pursuing Minister of Defense.
Since July 2012, General Ali Ayoub had held the position of Chief of Staff, but was later named Minister of Defense at the beginning of 2018. Since then, the position of Chief of Staff has remained vacant. This is an extraordinary situation that the Syrian army has not witnessed since its establishment in 1946,which raises many questions about how military operations are managed throughout the country during a “war.” Currently a chief of staff is not present to manage those operations. Sources indicate that the Russians (and Iranians) have assumed tasks related to the chief of staff in military operations through the Russian operations room located in Damascus (in the headquarters of the General Staff).The Minister of Defense assumes the administrative tasks of the Chief of Staff. The vacancy of this sensitive position during the existing circumstance indicates a significant defect in the chain of command and orders. However, the interference of the regime’s allies in this position outlines the impact they have on the chain and the depth of their intervention. Their interferences may be breaking the centralization and bureaucracy of the regime’s military decision making, swaying decisions in their favor. The chief of staff is the central position of the “Army and Armed Forces,” and it supervises and commands all corps, divisions, and combat units, as well as a large number of departments and divisions.
All military corps, divisions, and units within the chain of command and orders report to the Chief of the General Staff. The “interactive figure” shows how the five military corps and the divisions affiliated with them are distributed. Additionally, the military divisions, bodies, and departments report directly to the General Staff without subordination to any corps.
All corps, divisions, and departments - except for the 18th Division - are currently led by Alawite sect officers from four governorates (Latakia, Tartous, Homs, and Hama). The position of the corps commander is almost a formal administrative position, while the division commander has more power due to his direct command of the combat military unit, and this power varies according to the division’s number and the nature of its military tasks.
From another perspective, these units still maintain their party formation and are linked to the ruling Baath Party until now, including branches, divisions, and party cells. The military personnel are still generally prevented from affiliating politically with anything other than the Baath Party, despite the abolition of Article 8 of the Constitution.
On the other hand, both the Iranian and Russian military interventions influenced the military units and their leaders and officers. Russia had the most significant and powerful influence on a large number of units such as the Fifth Corps, the Republican Guard, the 17th Division, the 25th Division, the Air Force Command, and Air Defense.Furthermore, the Russian military advisors have penetrated all military units from divisions to battalions. Unlike Russia, Iran is satisfied with good relations with some commanders and officers of specific units due to some interests with the commanders of these units, such as Fourth Division, Fourth Corps, and Ninth Division) and some branches of the intelligence agencies.
After 2011, it is apparent that the Syrian army’s chain of command and orders has been greatly affected by several factors and variables. The most significant being the regime allies’ intervention in the military and its growing impact. The foreign interventions are primarily connected to Russia’s influence, more than Iran, as Russia is involved in the official circles of influence and informal networks. Sometimes Russia influences by bypassing outlined decision-makers in the chain of command, breaking the traditional centralized decision making mechanisms. This has illustrated the regime’s inability to control all military units effectively.
Despite the growing Iranian and Russian influence on the military and security institutions, Bashar al-Assad, as the “President of the Republic and Supreme Commander of the Army and Armed Forces,” still formally controls the chain of command and orders.However, this formal control does not imply complete control over appointments and the flow of orders. These may be influenced by regime’s allies according to their respective balance of interests and needs.
Bashar al-Assad has taken steps to reduce the influence of his allies on the military establishment, attempting to show a centralized chain of command. Before Russia’s intervention, this was the situation and was showcased through periodic military appointments that tried to mitigate the impact of interconnected networks. Chiefs of Intelligence agencies enjoy relative stability due to the unique nature of the work entrusted to them and the difficulty of assigning these positions to all officers. On the other hand, the promotions and appointments processes are still executed in a non-professional manner. The decisions are governed by loyalty, which above all, is linked to sectarian fanaticism that continues to penetrate the army from top to bottom.
Despite all its complexities and mixed dynamics, the military chain of command is a critical component of the Syrian regime. As the anchor point and head of the command, Bashar al-Assad assumes direct responsibility for the decisions made after 2011, including violations committed by the army and security services against civilians, documented massacres, and the use of internationally prohibited weapons including chemical weapons.
Dr. Ammar Kahf, Executive Director of Omran Center for Strategic Studies shared his analysis on TRT World regarding recent developments in Daraa al-Balad, the current talks brokered by the Russians, and the humanitarian conditions.
on the recent talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime in under the direct supervision of the Russian.
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In a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born in Daraa in 2011, the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran-backed militias are once again attempting to violently subdue the Syrian provincial capital, which is considered the birthplace of the revolution that began a decade ago.
The most recent round of clashes was sparked by Syria’s May 31 illegitimate presidential elections. Several of Daraa province’s cities refused to participate in the elections and civilians took to the streets in protest.
On the day of the elections, the Syrian regime was forced to move the election center from the Baath Party Division building in Nawa city to the district center in the middle of the security square, where branches of the regime security agencies are located. This prompted the flight of most of the working members of the party’s division to the capital, Damascus, for fear of being targeted.
As a result, several neighborhoods in Daraa province were placed under a brutal siege. In late June, the Fourth Division of the Syrian army and other regime forces encircled the city and cut off all roads leading to Daraa al-Balad in the south, preventing the entry of food and medicine as well as the entry or exit of civilians. The regime and its allies proceeded to cut off electricity, water, and communications. One checkpoint remains open for residents, but it is under the control of the Military Security Branch and the Mustafa al-Kassem militia—a troubling scenario for civilians.
Daraa hasn’t witnessed a military campaign like this since the regime took control of the province in July 2018. Following that takeover, the region was divided into settlement areas, as happened in Daraa al-Balad, Busra al-Sham, Tafas, and other areas under regime control (MAP 1). Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) remained, forming sleeper cells, such as the Popular Resistance in the south—an armed group from Daraa province that was formed in November 2018—in several towns that refused the terms of a settlement with the regime, which exposed them to attacks. Other formations of the FSA joined the Fifth Corps—a volunteer-based force—under direct Russian control. The most prominent outgrowth was the Sunni Youth Forces, which now forms the forces of the Eighth Brigade in the Fifth Corps.
The complex reality of influence and control after the 2018 settlement
Despite the Assad regime’s control over Daraa since the 2018 settlement, the reality on the ground indicates that there are three spheres of influence in the province. The first is the area considered the center of negotiations between the opposition and regime, which is under direct Russian supervision. In this area, the regime maintained institutional control but was denied a security presence. The second sphere of influence comprises of settlements where the regime has all-out military control, such as Bosra al-Harir, al-Harak, Saida, and surrounding towns, as well as western areas like Jassem and Newa. Lastly, the third includes areas seized by the regime without signing a settlement agreement, such as Dael, Inkhil, and al-Hara.
Iran’s consolidation of influence in Daraa is one significant implication of this power diffusion. Via the Fourth Division, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and militias deployed in Daraa, Iran has successfully expanded its influence in the south and established a military presence in strategic locations near Syria’s southern border. Recent developments are further evidence of Russia’s failure to contain Iran in Daraa. While the Russians led the initial negotiations, Iran subsequently upended the process, empowering local allies to take military control of the province.
Daraa developments in light of the regime’s army being dispersed between Russia and Iran
Beginning on June 25, regime forces imposed a complete siege on the neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad (inhabited by approximately fifty thousand people): the internally displaced camp, Palestinian refugee camp, al-Sad Road, and the farms in the areas of Shiah, al-Nakhla, al-Rahiya, and al-Khawani. The siege is meant to punish civilians for ongoing demonstrations since 2018 and the refusal of Dara al-Balad residents to participate in the voting process. As the dispute escalated, the Central Committee of Daraa al-Balad met with Russian General Assad Allah, who threatened to storm dissenting neighborhoods but agreed to prevent Iran-backed forces from taking military action in the city.
After several meetings between the Central Committee and regime, the two parties agreed to hand over the remaining light weapons of former FSA fighters who are not part of the Fifth Corps in exchange for lifting the siege imposed on Daraa al-Balad and an end to the regime’s military campaign there. The two sides also agreed to construct a new settlement to clarify missing or gray areas in the 2018 settlement.
However, the agreement has not been implemented so far due to several obstacles created by Major General Husam Louka, the head of General Security Directorate, Brigadier General Ghaith Dalah, commander of the Fourth Division, and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub—all of whom have stated that the regime’s goal is absolute control over the entire neighborhood of Daraa al-Balad. This proclamation upset the Russians, who know Iran is escalating the conflict and attempting to strengthen the control of its local allies near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
It is possible to deduce several important points from the rapid developments in Daraa al-Balad during the past week:
Amidst this military escalation on Daraa al-Balad and the eastern and western countryside and the continuation of negotiations between the Central Committee and the regime, Daraa faces several scenarios.
A new settlement and forced displacement
The way the Assad regime dealt with the cities of Tafas and al-Sanamayn could foreshadow what happens in Daraa al-Balad in the coming days. After the regime attack on the city of al- Sanamayn in March, Russia intervened through the Fifth Corps to resolve the conflict and imposed a truce that ended with the deportation of fighters to the north; those who stayed have had to hand over weapons. In January, the same scenario occurred in Tafas, after the regime demanded that the people hand over light and medium weapons and that those who wished to leave Daraa go north.
According to this scenario, Russia may intervene to end the attack on Daraa al-Balad, put an end to the military operation, and sign a new agreement. However, the details and terms depend on the size of the Assad regime’s losses in the coming days. This seems to be the most realistic scenario for the regime, considering its accelerated losses and negotiations with the Central Committee of Daraa.
The area under the shadow of the Fifth Corps
The FSA’s recent success will give it an upper hand at the negotiating table. The Central Committee may negotiate a stop to the escalation in all towns and cities in return for stopping the military campaign, lifting the siege, and deploying checkpoints for the Fifth Corps in Daraa. Although this scenario is possible, it requires the approval of Russia and Jordan and it is unlikely that Iran and the regime will accept this scenario, which would threaten their control in the south.
Return to the 2018 settlement
If the Russians do not intervene in the coming days to stop the regime’s military campaign and the FSA continues to maintain the military escalation line and preserve its gains on the ground, the regime may turn to pre-June 25 conditions to prevent further losses and the further bolstering of the opposition. The situation at the time gave the regime full administrative control over the area but with very limited security control.
Worst case scenario: absolute control by the regime without any reconciliations or settlement
This scenario is best for the Assad regime and its ally Iran, which does not favor Russia. It depends on launching a vast military campaign on the neighborhood and imposing absolute control without referring to any new settlements, which will result in a massive campaign of arrests for the residents and will not even allow them to flee to the north of Syria. This scenario is preferable for Iran because it will create a large vacuum in the region that can be exploited by local allies at the administrative, military, and security level, which will therefore pose a major challenge to Russia in regard to controlling the Iranian presence near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
In the long run, this scenario will enhance the fragility of the security situation in the region for an array of reasons. This includes: an increase in assassinations against Iran’s allies in the region; the high incidence of clashes between members of the Eighth Brigade and Iran’s allies; and an increase in the number of Israeli attacks on Iran-backed forces. In sum, this scenario is considered the worst for Daraa and its people because it serves only Iran and its local allies from the regime.
The 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections have unanimously been described as a farce. It comes as no surprise that Assad stays in power for a 4th term, gaining 95% of votes. In an analysis of the legal, Syrian regional and international level, this paper sheds light on the many flaws, felonious procedures and violations of international law inherent in the presidential elections. Amongst others, the paper addresses the systematic exclusion of large parts of Syrian constituents, the regime’s deterrence of any real opposition, the lack of a safe voting environment, and therewith, on an international level, the neglect of the entire peace process that seeks a political and not a military solution to the conflict in Syria.
Looking into the near future of post-election Syria, the paper furthermore discusses what the elections mean for both Syrians and the Assad regime including possible strategies Assad might peruse to strengthen his power on a domestic and regional political level. Conclusively, a set of recommendations are provided regarding what the Syrian people may ask from the international community as a response to the 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections.
During the monitoring period, 812 projects and activities were implemented northern Syria’s opposition-held areas. Those areas include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. This marks a 77% increase or 355 additional projects. The economic development sector expanded the most, with 193 projects. This is followed by the WASH sector with 165 projects. 154 projects were also implemented by the transportation and communications sector, as well as 119 projects for the internally displaced.
The report highlighted several trends during the monitoring period. Among the trends identified was the increase of economic activities in Idlib and its countryside by 55% (or 455 projects) compared to Aleppo and its countryside by 45%. (or 367 projects).
Coordination between local councils and non-government organizations continued, with several announcements of MOUs. This included the building of a hospital in the city of Soran, and the support for grain farmers with compound fertilizers and wheat seed in Akhtarin. The report also highlights the increase in job opportunities, most of which were in the health, IDP support in camps, and infrastructure projects. About 947 job opportunities were registered, most holding temporary contracts between 6-12 months.
Projects monitored in the report were further analyzed for strengths and weakness. Among the most notable strengths was the local councils’ focus on securing electricity for hard-to reach areas, in addition to rehabilitating many city centers, main roads, and markets. The most prominent weakness identified was the over-reliance by local councils on economic recovery funding from local and international organizations and only playing an intermediary role due to its limited budgets.
Based on findings, the report outlined a set of recommendations. Prime among recommendations was to enhance a holistic development strategy to include sectors that lack support and have not received adequate attention in the last period. The recommendations also highlighted the need to expand programs such as “Cash for work” and “e-voucher” that support small businesses and handcraft projects.
() Original paper published on March 15, 2021, in Arabic, https://bit.ly/3fhHMrU
Navvar Saban, a field expert at the Omran Center, said in his recent interview with FP "foreign policy" Since 2017, Iran focused on building and enhancing their relationships with different Syrian communities. It carried out its operations with a different approach towards infiltrating local communities, especially by purchasing real state in different provinces. Recently, Iran has been purchasing more properties in Deir Ezzor, in both regime and SDF held areas.
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After taking control east of the Euphrates, the Autonomous Administration (AA) has endured a host of challenges, including the overcrowding of various actors and its relation with local communities. In an effort to obtain political legitimacy, international recognition, and preserve its military gains in the field, the AA is seeking the formation of a new political framework. The proposed structure would include opposition figures and entities.
The move is motivated by a number of internal and external motives. Internally, a new, more inclusive political umbrella may unify the various Kurdish political groups. By creating an inclusive front, the AA may be able to monopolize the representation of Kurdish people in Syria, and contain local (non-Kurdish) groups. Most locals perceive the members of the PKK “Cadres” as the dominant actor behind the AA, with local governance structures existing powerlessly. This is due to the “Cadres” control over decision-making and deeply entrenched within the AA and all its institutions. Therefore, a more inclusive and representative political umbrella may alter this perception among locals.
Externally, the new AA political framework may strengthen the AA’s position to negotiate with Russia and the Syrian regime. A united front may provide the AA with a more compelling argument for the type of autonomy being proposed in northeast Syria, despite the Syrian regime’s reluctance to accept. Secondly, by restructuring, the AA may signal the gradual withdrawal of foreign PKK members from northern and eastern Syria, providing assurances to Ankara and showcasing desire to hold peace talks with Turkey. This may mend the relationship between the AA and Turkey preventing any new military operations. Lastly, through the initiative the AA would exhibit its intention to not obstruct Washington’s goals in Syria.
The initiative to form a new political umbrella east of the Euphrates may result in several scenarios. The AA will seek to adopt and improve its positioning, while mitigating potential losses.
() Original paper published on March 4, 2021, in Arabic, https://bit.ly/3qRhG1j
Entering its tenth year, the Syrian conflict has resulted in a host of challenges for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The topic of return is among the most critical in local and international conversations, which remains a challenge with no solution in sight. Without a conducive political, social, and economically environment, voluntary return will be limited. A number of items must be considered to elevate the option of voluntary return, including securing a safe and dignified return, maintaining regional stability, and arranging the appropriate regional and international circumstances to ensure the availability of the objective conditions necessary for such return.
When discussing the internal factors in which effect the return of Syria’s displaced, the security situation is the most mentioned. The security conditions in all areas of Syria significantly influence an individual’s decision to return. With deteriorating security conditions, civilians are unable to feel safe and stable. With fear of being displaced again due to security reasons, they are deterred from voluntary return. With the ongoing crisis, maintaining a secure space remains difficult for security forces in opposition, Assad regime, and Autonomous Administration (AA) held territory. The path towards providing civilians with a sense of safety and stability there must be a political and military solution. Recovery and reconstruction may only begin when a safe environment is secured.
Omran Centre for Strategic Studies implemented a survey targeting individuals from regime, opposition, and AA-held territories. This survey is integral as it illustrates the perspective of civilians concerning the security situation and factors influencing their return. From the surveys, it is apparent that locally civilians understand the security conditions intensively, and are aware. The chaotic security situation -is manifested in a host of violations that come in different forms, tools, and intensities. Thus, it reflects the fragility and volatility of the security environment, which is inconsistent with the demand that international bodies seek to fulfil as one of the objective prerequisites for the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries.
The goal of the survey was to identify primary and secondary factors as well as indicators related to the primary indicator of security stability in Syria. These secondary indicators include the efficiency of security apparatuses as well as the legal system associated with them, the performance of these apparatuses and their security operations in addition to relevant accountability, follow-up and complaints systems, as well as the extent to which these indicators have an impact on the return of the Syrian refugees from neighboring countries. First, the survey attempts to diagnose the general security landscape in various Syrian regions, then to identify the nature of relationships between civilians and security apparatuses in these areas, furthermore identifying the most important variables that govern the refugees' decision to return to Syria. Finally, it examines the reality of the refugees' return to Assad regime-held areas, opposition-held areas, and AA areas to determine the most important indicators related to the return of refugees to these areas.
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