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Syria Table of Contents


Development of the Syrian Military

The Mandate volunteer force formed in 1920 was established with the threat of Syrian-Arab nationalism in mind. Although the unit's officers were originally all French, it was, in effect, the first indigenous modern Syrian army. In 1925 the unit was designated the Levantine Special Forces (Troupes Spéciales du Levant). In 1941, the force participated in a futile resistance to the British and Free French invasion that ousted the Vichy French from Syria. After the Allied takeover, the army came under the control of the Free French and was designated the Levantine Forces (Troupes du Levant).

French Mandate authorities maintained a gendarmerie to police Syria's vast rural areas. This paramilitary force was used to combat criminals and political foes of the Mandate government. As with the Levantine Special Forces, French officers held the top posts, but as Syrian independence approached, the ranks below major were gradually filled by Syrian officers who had graduated from the Military Academy at Homs, which had been established by the French during the 1930s. In 1938 the Troupes Spéciales numbered around 10,000 men and 306 officers (of whom 88 were French, mainly in the higher ranks). A majority of the Syrian troops were of rural background and minority ethnic origin (mainly Alawis, Druzes, Kurds, and Circassians) (see Glossary). By the end of 1945, the army numbered about 5,000 and the gendarmerie some 3,500. In April 1946, the last French officers left Syria; the Levantine Forces then became the regular armed forces of the newly independent state and grew rapidly to about 12,000 by the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the first of four Arab-Israeli wars between 1948 and 1986 (not counting the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon).

The air force was formed in 1948 on the graduation of the first class of Syrian pilots from British flight schools. Two years later, with the procurement of a few naval craft from France, a small navy was established, using army personnel who had been sent to French academies for naval training.

French Mandate authorities were thus responsible for the initial development of Syria's armed forces, but by the mid1940s , for a variety of reasons, Syrians had developed a profound distrust of the French in particular and Western Europeans in general. The growth of pan-Arabism throughout much of the Arab world, including Syria, during the interwar years paralleled the feelings of anti-Westernism that were growing in the region.

Data as of April 1987