Syrian Arab Republic
The name and culture of Syria has ancient origins, referring to a region once known as the Levant. Absorbed into the Ottoman Empire during the 16th Century, the modern state of Syria was created as part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, originally as a territory under French mandate. Between 1925 and 1927 a series of battles ensued between French troops and Syrian dissidents supporting independence. Syria remained under French control until 1941, when it again proclaimed its independence. In 1946, the Syrian Republic was established and recognized.
The country aligned itself with other Arab nations during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and its subsequent defeat led to a period of instability lasting throughout the 1950s. Historically aligned with the USSR and Egypt, Syria merged with the latter in 1958 forming the United Arab Republic (1958-1961). However, a military seizure of power in September of 1961 dissolved the union and led to the establishment of the Syrian Arab Republic (الجمهورية العربية السورية), a name that the nation retains today.
Syria fought Israel again during the Six Day War (1967), during which the Golan Heights were lost. The territory was regained briefly during the Yom Kippur War (1973), but retaken by Israel which has retained possession ever since. Syria was heavily involved during the Lebanese Civil War, sending troops into Lebanon itself to support insurgent forces (particularly the Amal Movement) and plausibly to seek control over the entire territory. Syrian military forces remained in Lebanon long after the war ended, but were forced to withdraw finally in 2005 under international pressure.
The Syrian government and Ministry of Defence have long been supportive of Palestinian efforts to establish sovereign territory within the present state of Israel. Various factions of the PLO have received direct military aid from Syria, and indeed Syrian manufactured military equipment (including Syrian-made camouflage uniforms) have frequently been documented among Palestinian insurgent forces. Syrians have also harbored mixed views about neighboring Lebanon, once considered a part of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. Many Syrians simply hope for a stable economy and safe borders with their neighbor, but a strong percentage have always worked towards establishing a pro-Syrian government or even outright unification, with complete Syrian control. Certain paramilitary groups operating with Lebanese territory have historically been trained and funded completely by Syrian government sources. A list of groups operating outside Syria but with political and military allegiance to the Syrian government include:
- The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي) or SSNP
- Al-Mourabitoun ("the Guardians"), aka the Independent Nasserite Movement (حركة الناصريين المستقلين-المرابطون) - a political party and militia embracing the Marxist and pan-Arab ideals of then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser - politically allied to Syria
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) - Syrian-backed splinter group of the PLO (founded 1968)
- As-Sa'iqa or al-Saika (الصاعقة) - Syrian controlled Ba'athist faction (founded 1968)
- Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) - founded in 1964 and initially envisioned as the military wing of the PLO, this well-supplied paramilitary unit at one time had as many as 12,000 uniformed fighters organized in three Brigades. In practice, the PLA never actually deployed in support of the PLO, but instead functioned as an auxiliary wing, first of the Egyptian Army, and later of the Syrian Army until 1993.
- The Amal Movement (أفواج المقاومة اللبنانية) – a political movement and militia with strong ties to the Shi’a population (est 1974)
Sparked by political unrest and regime change in other parts of Western Asia and North Africa (collectively referred to as the "Arab Spring" Movement), Syrian dissidents began demonstrating against President Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath party, which has maintained strict one-party control over the nation for nearly fifty years, in March 2011. Heavy handed and violently oppressive measures against the protesters, and lack of international involvement, eventually spawned a full-scale civil war, which continues to rage across the nation. By late 2013, the list of paramilitary and militia groups included the following:
Pro-Syrian Government Groups
- The National Defense Force (NDF, or قوة الدفاع الوطني) - a pro-Syrian government paramilitary force, organized in late 2012, that receives supplies and training from the Syrian government. The NDF operate in support of the Syrian Army, primarily in the ground defense role.
- Shabiha (شبيحة) – civilian Ba’athist militia, led by Namir al-Assad
- Al-Jaysh al-Sha’bi (الجيش الشعبي) – loyalist militia of Shi’a and Alawi
- Syrian Resistance (المقاومة السورية), aka the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Sanjak of Alexandretta – pro-government, Marxist-Leninist militia operating in Northwest Syria
- Al Abbas Brigade (لواء أبو الفضل العباس), aka Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas (the Brigade of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas) – Shi’a militia, allied to Hezbollah
- Sariyya al-Tali’a al-Khurasani - Jihadist Shi'a militia supported by Iran and Hezbollah
- Liwa'a Zulfigar (LZ) - Jihadist Shi'a militia based in Damascus, established in 2013
- Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
- Private military contractors, such as the PMC "Slavonic Corps" (ex-Russian servicemen) - essentially mercenaries working for the Assad government.
Syrian Opposition Groups
- Free Syrian Army (FSA) (الجيش السوري الحر) – the largest and most well-organized militia, receiving considerable war materiel from Turkey and bolstered by foreign fighters from Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
- Syria Martyr’s Brigade (Idlib Martyr’s Brigade), formerly the Syrian Liberation Army (until 2012) – mostly civilian militia operating in Idlib province
- Liwaa al-Umma (Banner of the Nation) (لواء الامة) – moderate Islamist revolutionary movement
- Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) (جبهة تحرير سوريا الإسلامية) – a coalition of Sunni Islamist units
- Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam)( جيش الإسلام) – Damascus-based coalition of militias, reputedly supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
- Syrian Islamic Front (لجبهة الإسلامية السورية) – Salafi Islamist coalition
- Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade (لجبهة الإسلامية السورية) – independent Sunni militia, funded by the government of Qatar
- Al-Nusra Front ( جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام) – Sunni Islamist mujahideen movement, reputedly part of Al-Qaeda network
- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ( الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) – Islamist/Jihadist group est 2003 and also operating in Iraq; also known as al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham (Daesh)
Syrian Camouflage Patterns
- Dating to the 1970s is a Syrian copy of the Pakistani arid brushstroke camouflage pattern. Supporting a well-established textile and garment industry for decades, most Syrian uniforms are locally-made, although the originals in this pattern might have been produced from imported fabric.
- Having a lengthy association with France, it should be no surprise that Syria has been heavily influenced by French military camouflage, particularly the tenue du leopard or lizard designs. The earliest Syrian made copies seem to retain the russet or orange stripes of the original French designs, although in some cases the stripes are vertically aligned rather than horizontally.
- The dapple or spot pattern(s) seen in these photographs can be dated to the early 1970s. Due to the quality of the photographs, it is difficult to discern if these are the same design, or two slightly different patterns. Documentation remains scant, leading us to conclude the use may have been restricted to the Republican Guard or one of the Defense Companies of this period.
- Another early pattern derivative of the French lizard is a vertical stripe pattern with dark colors. Sometimes referred to as "green lizard," the design incorporates vertical stripes of brown and dark green on a pale green background. The pattern was reputedly worn by some Syrian Commando and Paratroop units, although it is most commonly associated with units of the PLO. Over the years the pattern earned an association among collectors with a supposed Syrian unit called the "Saika Division;" however, such a Division is undocumented, and in fact the term probably refers to As-Sa'iqa (Al-Sa'iqa), a militant faction of the PLO that was supported by Syria until the early 1990s. This pattern strongly resembles one later adopted by Egypt for certain military police and Presidential Guard units.
- The camouflage pattern probably most commonly associated with the Syrian Armed Forces is another lizard variant design having reddish stripes. Introduced in the mid-1970s, the pattern continued to be worn by Syrian, Lebanese and some PLO elements well into the 1990s, although it seems to have fallen into disuse today. Inconsistencies in production standards have led to quite a number of variations being produced, with some designs having significantly higher details. Both vertical and horizontal orientations have been documented, although the latter seem to be more prevalent. The "red lizard" patterns seem to be primarily associated with airborne and commando units, and not with conventional forces.
- Based on similar drawings but with a different colorway is this "purple lizard" design, also used by Syrian forces, as well as PLO elements operating from out of Lebanon.
- Beginning in the 1980s, Syrian military forces began deploying with a locally-made copy of the US m1948 ERDL camouflage pattern. There is likely to be some connection to Iraq and/or Jordan, as both countries were using a similar camouflage design at this time. The "Syrian leaf" pattern employs a different color scheme, and, as with most locally-made uniforms, is printed on a heavier weight cotton fabric.
- An interesting variation of the above leaf pattern uses a reddish or pink colorway, although is based on the same set of drawings. It appears this pattern was employed primarily by elite Military Police or Security Forces of the Syrian Army.
- Using a different set of drawings than the earler "Syrian leaf" pattern, the present day camouflage design is seen here.
- Security Forces have appeared in 2012 wearing a woodland variation with a grey/blue colorway, similar to commercial patterns and those adopted by Air Force personnel in some nations.
- In recent years, Syrian forces have begun wearing a literal copy of the US-designed m81 woodland design such as the one seen below. The pattern has also seen sporadic use with insurgent forces during the Civil War.
Camouflage Patterns of Unconventional Forces
As with the previous civil war of liberation in Libya (February to October 2011), the numerous factions and sources of military support have made it challenging to track consistent use of camouflage combat uniforms amongst the forces opposing the Syrian government. It has been particularly difficult to determine which camouflage patterns and uniforms have been obtained in quantity (from disparate sources), and which have simply appeared among the combatants singly or in scattered numbers. In addition to standard Syrian Army camouflage uniforms and equipment (which have appeared in abundance), insurgent forces have also made significant use of donated uniforms from supporting nations like Turkey and Jordan. Several types of vertical lizard camouflage have been documented, but in such small numbers it has yet to be determined the sources. The patterns illustrated below have appeared in significant enough numbers to verify their existence in quantity among the liberation movements.
- The Free Syria Army (FSA) has received complete camouflage uniforms from Turkey in the same digital pattern worn by the Turkish Army, and also the more recent pattern adopted by the Turkish Air Force.
- Copies of the US-designed six-color "chocolate chip" desert pattern have appeared in significant numbers among insurgent forces, most likely obtained through sources in Libya or Jordan. It has also been observed among members of the NDF.
- Also appearing in significant numbers among both insurgent forces and the NDF have been copies of the tricolor desert pattern, also originally fielded by the USA.
- The STK militia have received considerable support from Iran and Hezbollah, including stocks of Iranian camouflage uniforms. The patterns illustrated here seem to be the most commonly encountered among this militia. Apparently some pro-Assad forces (e.g. NDF) have also been known to wear the digital pattern.
- Asian-made copies of the USMC MARPAT camouflage design have been documented in use by some insurgents, most notably among members of a militia calling itself the Liwa’a al-Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba. Members of the same militia have also been photographed wearing various Iranian woodland camouflage designs, such as those directly above this entry.
- The Liwa'a Zulfigar or Zulfigar Battalion have posted photographs of their militia members wearing two primary camouflage designs, a copy of the British Army desert DPM pattern, and a [digital patterns|pixelated design]] similar to that worn by the UAE (and probably sourced from Libya).