Syria Update

Several months ago I wondered why there hadn’t been reports of defectors from the Syrian army, given that conscripts serve only 18-21 month tours of duty, meaning they remain unprofessionalized and with little sense of loyalty to the army. My rough hypothesis at the time was that the short tour of duty in fact discouraged defection, giving recruits little incentive to exit illegally since they would be able to exit legally at a time no great distance in the future. But obviously defection remained a possibility, and even more, an important signal about the state of affairs.

Now it is reported that as many as 10,000 Syrian soldiers have defected. The report also says that in the last three call-ups, around half of the conscripts have not reported. Unfortunately it doesn’t disentangle those numbers, telling us if those refusees are counted among the 10,000 defectees or not.

A quick internet search shows the Syrian Army to be estimated at between 220,000 and 316,000 in size (an annoying large spread). Either way, 10,000 is a relatively small percentage, but if it is composed mostly of actual defectors, who have taken their (minimal) training and weaponry, that still makes for a potentially sizable guerrilla force to combat (even assuming that not all have left to take up arms against the state, but simply to avoid taking up arms against civilians). If the bulk of those numbers is made up of those who have refused to report, then that number will be much smaller, but perhaps still significant.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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7 Responses to Syria Update

  1. Dr X says:

    It is a relatively small percentage, but imagine if the same percentage of America’s active duty armed forces defected. Nearly 50,000. Throw in the reserves and it’s double that. That would be huge news.

  2. Lance says:

    James Hanley,

    You use the word “defector”. By that do you mean deserter?

    Defector has the connotation of going over to the other side, where deserter just means they are AWOL.

    Is there any evidence that these missing conscripts are actively fighting against the Syrian army?

  3. James Hanley says:


    I do mean deserters. That’s what I get for proofreading carelessly.

    There is evidence that some deserters are actively fighting against the army. As for conscripts who’ve refused to join the army, I think it’s probably safe to assume some are engaged in active protests, if not actual fighting, but I’ve seen no numbers. I suppose that’d take some active surveying to figure out, and I doubt anyone’s asking those types of questions right now.

  4. Lance says:

    “I suppose that’d take some active surveying to figure out, and I doubt anyone’s asking those types of questions right now.”

    Good point.

    Very dangerous… You go first.

  5. Matty says:

    So for those conscripts the consequences of deserting are prefered to the consequences of seeing out their time?

    That implies that the oposition is a bigger factor, either feared or supported than the army itself which does sound significant.

  6. Lance says:

    I’m still less than optimistic that the situation is going to end well in Syria. Assad has few options at this point. If he accepts the terms of the Arab League deal he will look weak and the long knives will come out from within the Ba’ath party and the military.

    At this point he probably sees only two choices:
    1.) Admit defeat and head for Tehran.
    2.) Use whatever force is necessary to remain in power.

    And Arab “strongmen” aren’t big on admitting defeat.

    Also Iran has a lot at stake here. Syria is their only real client state in the region and they probably aren’t going to allow Assad to step aside and accept a Sunni majority state to take his place.

    Also don’t forget that Assad is backed by several powerful minorities, which include the Alawi, Shi’a, Druze, Christians, and a very small Syrian Jewish community. None of them want a majority Sunni government and have backed Assad so far.

    I think this is going to be a long bloody haul. Assad may end up going out like Kaddafi but he is going to take plenty of people with him if he goes.

  7. Lance says:

    I included the Syrian Jewish community in that list, but they aren’t really backers of Assad. They just prefer the devil they know to the Sunni devil that may come later if Assad is toppled.

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