National Defence Forces

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National Defence Forces
قوات الدفاع الوطني
National Defense Force SSI.svg
National Defence Forces Syria Logo Transparent.png
Symbol of the NDF
Active1 November 2012 – present
Country Syria
AllegianceSyrian Arab Republic
TypeInfantry (militia)
RoleReserve Army[1]
Part of Syrian Armed Forces
Garrison/HQ3002 Damascus, Syria (main HQ)
With elements in:
Aleppo Governorate
Hama Governorate
Latakia Governorate
Tartus Governorate
Homs Governorate
al-Hasakah Governorate
Damascus Governorate
As-Suwayda Governorate
Deir ez-Zor Governorate[4]
EquipmentSee List of NDF equipment
EngagementsSyrian Civil War:
Syria-Amid.jpgBrig. Gen. Hawash Mohammed[3]
NDF flagFlag of the National Defence Force Syria.svg
National Defence Forces
Quwāt ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī
Dates of operation1 November 2012 – present
Active regionsSyria
AlliesState allies

Non-state allies


OpponentsState opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and warsthe Syrian Civil War

The National Defence Forces (NDF) (Arabic: قوات الدفاع الوطنيQuwāt ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī) is a pro-government militia, that was formed on 1 November 2012[11] and organized by the Syrian government during the Syrian Civil War as a part-time volunteer reserve component of the Syrian Armed Forces.[12] The NDF is made of units across various Syrian provinces, each of them consists of local volunteers willing to fight against rebels for various reasons. The NDF has generally positive interaction with the Syrian Democratic Forces. On 20 February 2018, NDF battalions volunteered to support the canton of Afrin against the Turkish-led operation against Afrin.


By the beginning of 2013, the Syrian government took steps to formalize and professionalize hundreds of Popular Committee militias under a new group dubbed the National Defence Forces.[11][13][14]

The goal was to form an effective, locally based, highly motivated force out of pro-government militias. The NDF, in contrast with the Shabiha forces, received salaries and military equipment from the government.[15][16] Since the formation of the NDF, Shabiha members have been incorporated into its structure.[17][18] The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has defined Shabiha as the Syrian National Defence Forces.[19]

Young and unemployed men join the NDF, which some view as more attractive than the Syrian Army, considered by many of them to be infiltrated by rebels, overstretched and underfunded. A number of recruits say they joined the group because members of their families had been killed by rebel groups. In some Alawite villages almost every military-age male has joined the National Defence Force.[4]

Others, like the Druze people of Al-Suwayda Governorate, join to protect their land from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[20] In late June 2015, the Syrian government began arming citizens of this governorate against ISIL, who were harassing the local population with abductions, executions, and plundering. The locals became a large and powerful NDF contingent in the governorate, including the prominent Golan Regiment.[20]

The creation of the NDF was personally overseen by Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani.[21] Syrian security officials stated that they received assistance from Iran and Hezbollah, who both "played a key role in the formalization of the NDF along the model of the Iranian 'Basij' militia". The NDF recruits received training in urban guerilla warfare from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah instructors at facilities inside Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, with this partnership remaining in place as of April 2015.[17] Iran has contributed to gathering together existing neighborhood militias into a functioning hierarchy and provided them with better equipment and training.[11] The United States government has also stated that Iran is helping build the group on the model of its own Basij militia, and that some members are being sent for training in Iran.[22]


The force acts in an infantry role, directly fighting against rebels on the ground and running counter-insurgency operations in coordination with the Syrian Army, which provides them with logistical and artillery support.

The force was reported to be 60,000-strong as of June 2013 and grew to 100,000 by August.[4][5] The NDF is composed mainly of members of the Alawite and Shia sects of Islam and are loyal to Syrian Government.[4]

Units mostly operate in their local areas, although members can also choose to take part in army operations.[15][23] Others have claimed that the NDF does most of the fighting because NDF members, as locals, have a strong knowledge of the region.[23]

Struggling with reliability and issues with defections, officers of the Syrian Army increasingly prefer the part-time volunteer reserves of the NDF, who they regard as more motivated and loyal, over regular army conscripts to conduct infantry operations. An officer in Homs, who asked not to be identified, said the army was increasingly playing a logistical and directive role, while NDF fighters act as combatants on the ground.[1]

Organization and training[edit]

According to a report, as of February 2015 the National Defense Forces are organized under provincial commanders, and loosely overseen by a national coordinator who is reported to be Brigadier-General Ghassan Nassour, although later sources report the name of Hawash Mohammed.[3] Local branches are deemed to act with autonomy and to be not cohesive on the provincial level, although there is little uniformity.[24]

Provincial branches seem to be commanded by a senior officer each.[25]

The period of training can vary from 2 weeks to a month depending on whether an individual is being trained for basic combat, sniping, or intelligence.[15]

Lionesses for National Defence[edit]

Since January 2013, the NDF has a 500-strong women's wing called "Lionesses of National Defence", which operates checkpoints in the Homs area.[26] The women are trained to use Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns and grenades, and taught to storm and control checkpoints.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. 21 April 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-06-01. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  2. ^ "The Shia crescendo". The Economist. 28 March 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-07-10. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Who are the pro-Assad militias in Syria? Archived 2016-03-05 at the Wayback Machine Middle East Eye, 25 September 2015
  4. ^ a b c d e "Syria's Alawite Force Turned Tide for Assad". Wall Street Journal. 26 August 2013. Archived from the original on 2015-01-28. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Syria's civil war: The regime digs in". The Economist. 15 June 2013. Archived from the original on 2015-10-06.
  6. ^ Szakola, Albin. "Pro-Assad militia says hit by Israel". Archived from the original on 2017-02-18. Retrieved 2017-02-27.
  7. ^ "Syrian Army beats back jihadist forces in Golan Heights despite Israeli aggression". 25 June 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-06-25. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  8. ^ "Islamic State retreats from Palmyra amid stunning Syrian Army offensive". 2 March 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-03-02. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-07-19. Retrieved 2018-07-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ a b c Will Fulton, Joseph Holliday, and Sam Wyer, Iranian Strategy in Syria Archived 2016-02-01 at the Wayback Machine, Institute for the Study of War, May 2013
  12. ^ "SYRIA UPDATE: THE FALL OF AL-QUSAYR". Institute for the Study of War. Archived from the original on 2013-06-10. Retrieved Jun 7, 2013.
  13. ^ Michael Weiss (18 May 2013). "Rise of the Militias in Syria". RealClearWorld. Archived from the original on 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
  14. ^ Lund, Aron (2013-08-27). "The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria". CTC Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2013-10-07. Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  15. ^ a b c "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. April 21, 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-06-01. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  16. ^ Michael Weiss (17 May 2013). "Rise of the militias". NOW. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05.
  17. ^ a b Kozak, Christopher (26 May 2015). "The Regime's Military Capabilities: Part 1". ISW. Archived from the original on 27 May 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  18. ^ "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. 21 April 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-06-01. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  19. ^ "Hezbollah, NDF and Iranian Militias are Arch-Terrorists in Syria". National_Coalition_for_Syrian_Revolutionary_and_Opposition_Forces. 12 November 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  20. ^ a b Leith Fadel. "Sweida Residents Fight Back Against ISIS: Terrorist Group Suffers Heavy Losses". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 2015-09-26. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  21. ^ Siegel, Jacob (5 June 2015). "The Myth of Iran's Military Mastermind". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 2015-06-06. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Signs of Strain on Syria's Military Build". 13 March 2013. Archived from the original on 2017-09-27. Retrieved 2017-02-27.
  23. ^ a b Glass, Charles (5 December 2013). "Syria: On the Way to Genocide?". New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on 2013-11-19. Retrieved 2013-11-18.
  24. ^ Lund, Aron (2 March 2015). "Who Are the Pro-Assad Militias?". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Archived from the original on 2016-03-21. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  25. ^ Larkin, Craig; Kerr, Michael (2015). The Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 220.
  26. ^ Adam Heffez (28 November 2013). "Using Women to Win in Syria". Al-Monitor (Eylül). Archived from the original on 2013-11-11. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  27. ^ Sly, Liz (2013-01-25). "The all-female militias of Syria". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2014-06-18. Retrieved 2014-06-28.

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