News / Middle East

    Syrian Army is Capable Military Force, Say Experts

    An injured Syrian army soldier (L) walks with his comrades after a roadside bomb hit their military truck, Daraa city, southern Syria, May 9, 2012. An injured Syrian army soldier (L) walks with his comrades after a roadside bomb hit their military truck, Daraa city, southern Syria, May 9, 2012.
    x
    An injured Syrian army soldier (L) walks with his comrades after a roadside bomb hit their military truck, Daraa city, southern Syria, May 9, 2012.
    An injured Syrian army soldier (L) walks with his comrades after a roadside bomb hit their military truck, Daraa city, southern Syria, May 9, 2012.
    Fighting between heavily armed Syrian government troops and lightly-equipped opposition forces continues as diplomatic efforts seem to make little headway.

    Experts said President Bashar al-Assad’s army - estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000 troops - is by regional standards a highly-capable military force.

    "When you compare it to neighboring states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, it is one of the largest forces," said Aram Nerguizian, a Syria expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It does have pockets of excellence."  

    Nerguizian points out "You have units like the Republican Guard and units that Maher al-Assad [President Assad's brother] controls that are markedly more effective, and there are essentially elite units and very loyal to Assad, capable in urban fighting."

    But John Pike, head of an Internet research firm Globalsecurity.com, said there are limits to the army’s political reliability "because of the sectarian division between the Alawite officers and the Sunni soldiers."

    Outside military help

    Syrian Air and Naval Forces

    • 70,000 Air Force personnel
    • 5,000 Navy personnel
    • 300 fighter-ground attack planes
    • 48 intelligence/surveillance planes
    • 22 heavy transport planes
    • 36 attack helicopters
    • 100 reconnaissance/transport helicopters
    For decades, first the Soviet Union and now Russia delivered weapons to the Syrian army. These included thousands of tanks, helicopters, heavy artillery, ammunition and armored personnel carriers.

    Pieter Wezeman, an arms transfer expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said other countries have been mentioned as possible arms suppliers to Syria, such as Iran.

    "Another country which has been mentioned in some reports is North Korea'" added Wezeman, though he said it is hard to estimate the volume and number of weapons provided by Pyongyang.

    Rebels lightly armed

    Experts said facing a well-equipped Syrian army are insurgents armed with light weapons.

    John Pike said those include assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled anti-tank rockets. "What they do not have is helicopters and tanks," said Pike. "And that is basically what the Syrian government is relying on to suppress this insurrection, is this military imbalance that the rebels have light weapons and the government has heavy weapons."

    Pieter Wezeman said much of the weaponry used by the insurgents has either been captured from depots or taken from soldiers of the Syrian army who have deserted.

    "There are also clear indications that the rebels have procured arms on the black market in, for example, Lebanon," said Wezeman. "And then of course there are the rumors that countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also involved in supplying them arms - or at last the funds to procure arms." But Wezeman pointed out "it is very unclear what is true about these rumors and what is not."

    Experts said it is difficult to predict how long the fighting in Syria will last - it has been going on for more than a year. A cease-fire that is part of a peace plan offered by joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has failed to take hold.

    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Kuyana from: Kenia
    June 21, 2012 7:35 AM
    I THINK THE RUSSIANS AND CHINESE SHOULD STICK WITH ASSAD.THOSE WESTERNERS ARMING THE REBELS ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN PUSHING THEIR OWN AGENDA. IT'S TIME SOME ONE STOPPED OBAMA'S ADVENTURES IN THE ARAB WORLD--OR IS HE top "god" in the MOSLEM SPIRITUAL WORLD?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora