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Recruiting or training Syrians?

2024-06-24 07:00

Issam Khoury

#Geopolitics , #Russia , #MilitaryTraining , #Tartus , #Division25 , #UkraineConflict , #Drones , #SyrianArmy , #MilitaryExercises,

Recruiting or training Syrians?

Russian-Syrian military exercises at Tartus aimed at training and recruiting Syrian forces for Russian military operations, especially in Ukraine.

Russian forces conducted joint exercises with the Syrian army at the port of Tartus on June 8, 2024, to counter a simulated attack on the port. The Pantsir-S[1] air defense systems were used along with the boat crews of the Black Sea Fleet's "Cadet" anti-sabotage detachment, the Verba[2] portable anti-aircraft missile systems, and the Strela-10 anti-aircraft[3] missile systems.


Such exercises between the two parties have been conducted in previous years, but this particular exercise garnered attention in the Russian media, seemingly to send messages to international and regional parties that they are ready for military action in Syria, despite their involvement in Ukraine. However, these exercises carried hidden objectives, including:


1. Recruiting Syrians to fight alongside the Russians: 


Syrian elements from the air defense forces, Division 25, and the Special Forces led by Brigadier General Soheil al-Hassan were trained on the use of drones and attempts to neutralize them. Surprisingly, elements affiliated with the Syrian Navy were excluded from the training, despite being the primary defenders of the Syrian coast, including the Tartus naval base. Division 25, led by Brigadier General Saleh Abdullah, has shown allegiance to the Russian Federation and is the only division in the Syrian army conducting training for volunteers in Russian-affiliated security companies. These activities are carried out independently of official directives from the Syrian Army's General Staff or even the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian regime.


2. Training on Iranian drones: 


The Islamic Republic of Iran has shipped numerous batches of its drones to the Russian Federation. Despite the inefficiency of these drones, their extensive use disrupts Ukrainian lines. Therefore, the Russians need personnel capable of dealing with these drones in addition to their military personnel. These drones have effectively been used in Syrian territories, mainly by the Fourth Division and Hezbollah fighters, making the fighters of Division 25 and the Special Forces less proficient in dealing with them. It appears that the Russians are determined to enhance the capabilities of Division 25 fighters, some of whom may turn into mercenaries in Russian offensive lines. Russia also seeks to reduce reliance on the Fourth Division in Syria, as it is influenced by Iranians and could be a target for Israeli strikes if the latter launches a wide-scale attack on northern Israeli territories.


3. A challenge message to the Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR): 


After the "Kyiv Post" newspaper reported that Special Forces fighters affiliated with the Ukrainian army, in cooperation with forces from the Syrian opposition, carried out military operations against Russian army units stationed at Russian observation points scattered in the Syrian Golan Heights in March 2024, Russia wanted to highlight its readiness for any possibility targeting its naval base in Tartus or Khmeimim Air Base by showing the presence of Syrian partners capable of countering any scenario Ukraine might execute against the Russians in Syria.



Reasons for choosing Tartus:


The Russian naval base in the port of Tartus has the capability to withstand any aerial attack with the presence of the S-400 missile system. It's also far from the military points of the armed Syrian opposition. The only potential surprise attack could come from the sea, although it's highly unlikely. Therefore, the main goal of this training might be to prepare fighters for a war near the shores of Odesa or to prepare a military team to protect the Crimean Bridge, which has been targeted several times by Ukrainian drones.


Selection mechanism of trainees:


Despite the difficulty of accessing Russian military centers, the number of trainees exceeded 500, accompanied by 36 officers of various ranks. Each of them received documents allowing them to enter the naval base a day before the training. It's worth noting that the Russians requested the Syrian Ministry of Defense to select 100-150 individuals for training, but the number was higher. This indicates that either Brigade 25 or Suheil al-Hassan brought some of their elements without coordination with the Ministry of Defense, or the trainees coming from these parties are mercenaries wearing Syrian army uniforms. Of course, all security approvals for their attendance at this training were obtained from the Russian military intelligence at the Hmeimim airbase.


Continuation of the training:


During the training period, fishermen were prohibited from sailing, and transportation between Arwad Island and the city of Tartus was disrupted. Interestingly, this occurred on the mornings of June 9th and 10th, 2024, suggesting that the training continued after the official Syrian military team departed.


Training at the Tartus base and the presence of Russian companies recruiting Syrian fighters as mercenaries are two essential pillars in any scene linking Moscow with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad emphasized his absolute loyalty to President Putin in his televised interview with Russian journalist Vladimir Solovyov on March 3, 2024. He stated, (The decisions taken by Putin are what bring Russia back to the international scene,)… (The West is funny and stupid), a clear indication of referring to the Syrian commitment to the Russian project in Syria and the world. 


Since the Syrian regime is not financially and technologically productive, the only aspect in which it can support Russia is through human resources. Hence, the Russians were allowed to train personnel from the Syrian army and use them in the Ukrainian war.


[1] The Pantsir missile system is a family of self-propelled, medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery systems.

[2] SA-25 VERBA 9K333 MANPADS man-portable air defense missile system

[3] The 9K35 Strela-10 is a Soviet highly mobile, short-range surface-to-air missile system. It is visually aimed and utilizes optical/infrared guidance.

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