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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More