Forces of the Fighters of the TribesWikipedia open wikipedia design.
|Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes|
Quwat Muqatili al-Asha'irParticipant in the Syrian Civil War
Emblem of the militia. Top reads: "Syrian Arab Republic. The Army and the Armed Forces- Intelligence Branch." Bottom: "Lions of the Jazeera. Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes."
|Active||c. 2013/14 – present|
|Area of operations||Syria|
|Size||5,000 (self-claim 2017)|
|Part of||Military Intelligence Directorate (Syria)|
|Opponent(s)|| Syrian opposition and allied mujahideen|
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
|Battles and war(s)||Syrian Civil War |
The Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes (Arabic: Quwat Muqatili al-Asha'ir), sometimes called the Tribal Army, is a multi-tribal militia affiliated with the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate that take part in the Syrian Civil War. Led by Turki Albu Hamad, the Fighters of the Tribes played a vital role in the Assad government's efforts to retake central and eastern Syria. The militia is affiliated with the pro-Ba'athist branch of the Arab Socialist Movement, and is closely allied with Russia.
The Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes were founded by the Arab Socialist Movement as "auxiliary force" for the Syrian Army at some point during the Syrian Civil War, reportedly during or shortly after the Raqqa campaign (2012–13). They were organised by Turki Albu Hamad, a member of the Arab Socialist Movement's political office who had to flee his native Raqqa Governorate due to persecution by rebel forces. The militia initially counted about 200 fighters, and waged a guerilla campaign for the government in Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Disguised as insurgents, Turki's militants would kidnap actual rebels and hand them over to local security forces. Turki was later sent to Damascus, where he and Omar Adnan al-Alawi, the Arab Socialist Movement's assistant secretary general, began organising new branches of the Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes. While his original followers continued to fight in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, Turki recruited new troops in Homs.
The militia's Homs branch took part in operations in the Syrian steppe and Syrian Desert in early 2016, such as the Ithriyah-Raqqa offensive (February–March 2016), the Palmyra offensive (March 2016), and the Battle of al-Qaryatayn (March–April 2016). By mid-2016, the group fought at the central Syrian frontlines, where government forces were trying to progress toward al-Sukhnah. In course of these operations, disputes erupted among the Fighters of the Tribes as members of one of its sub-units, the Druze Bayraq al-Suwayda, felt that the recruitment promises were not being kept. As result, they mutinied and tried to leave Palmyra for their homes in as-Suwayda, but were detained by other Fighters of the Tribes. Eventually, the head of as-Suwayda's NDF intervened in order to ensure that they were released.
Later during 2016, the Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes mostly concentrated on operations in and around Aleppo, where they fought in the last phase of the four years-long battle for the city. They helped to fully encircle the rebel-held parts of Aleppo, and then participated in Operation Dawn of Victory that saw the final defeat of the city's rebels. For their good combat performance during these engagements, the militia was praised by Zayd Ali Saleh, head of the security and military committee in Aleppo. Nevertheless, a group of about 500 Fighters of the Tribes proved in the following months to be prone to looting and harassment of Aleppo's civilian population; for this, they were transferred for disciplinary reasons to al-Khafsah. Meanwhile, the rest of the militia fought in the eastern Aleppo countryside against ISIL.
Around mid-2017, Turki Albu Hamad had managed to recruit another force for the Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes which took part in the Syrian Desert campaign (May–July 2017) and a government campaign to retake all of central Syria. When ISIL launched a major counter-attack during this campaign and overran several government positions, about 79 fighters of the militia fled north into SDF-held areas. Carrying white flags, they surrendered to the SDF in order to prevent ISIL from capturing them. The militiamen were then transferred to Kobanî while negotiations began between the SDF and government forces for their release. Eventually, however, dozens of these tribal fighters decided to join the SDF instead of returning to the government, as they felt that Turki Albu Hamad had abandoned them. The commander had allegedly fled during the ISIL counter-attack while leaving his men behind.
In August 2017, a pro-Syrian opposition news site reported that members of Turki's militia had been involved in a shootout with another pro-government group, the Desert Commandos Regiment, in Homs. The clash had allegedly resulted from disputes over control of brothels in the city. By 2018, the Fighters of the Tribes were considered to be among the most important pro-Russian militias in Syria, and vital to the improving fortunes of the Syrian government.
Organization and recruitment
Besides Turki Albu Hamad, the Fighters of the Tribes are also led by his brother Ahmad Albu Hamad; both of them are part of the Albu Hamad tribe of Raqqa Governorate. Their militia claims to have thousands of supporters among tribes in central Syria, and its recruits are mostly drawn from eastern Syrian tribal members (such as the Deir ez-Zor and al-Hasakah Governorates), though they also have fighters from the Aleppo, Hama, and as-Suwayda Governorates. Pro-Opposition sources have accused the Fighters of the Tribes of forcibly conscripting and blackmailing people into enlisting. Most of militia's troops are members of the Arab Socialist Movement. In all, the Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes claimed to have about 5,000 fighters by 2017, and are one of the most important tribal militias in Syria.
The group is closely allied with and supported by Russia, and is trained by the Russian Armed Forces as well as by Hezbollah fighters. Despite this, the Fighters of the Tribes suffer from indiscipline. The militia is also influenced by Iran.
- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (2 April 2017). "Quwat Muqatili al-Asha'ir: Tribal Auxiliary Forces of the Military Intelligence". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
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- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (4 February 2019). "The Arab Socialist Movement: Interview". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- "Churches burnt, cemeteries desecrated: RT visits liberated town of Al-Qaryatayn, Syria". RT (TV network). 5 April 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
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- "Brothels Cause Clashes between the militias of the Syrian regime in Homs". Nedaa. 11 August 2017. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- Anton Mardasov (27 August 2018). "Russia eyes role in formation of Syria's National Defense Forces". al-Monitor. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- Heydemann (2018), p. 9.
- Heydemann, Steven (December 2018). "Rethinking Stabilization in Eastern Syria: Toward a Human Security Framework" (PDF). Atlantic Council. ISBN 978-1-61977-568-8.