National Defence Forces (Syria)

National Defence Forces
قوات الدفاع الوطني

Symbol of the NDF
Active 1 November 2012  present
Country Syria
Allegiance Syrian Arab Republic
Type Infantry (militia)
Role Reserve Army[1]
Size 90,000[2]–100,000[3]
Part of Syrian Armed Forces
Garrison/HQ 3002 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[4]
Equipment See List of NDF equipment

Syrian Civil War:

Brig. Gen. Hawash Mohammed[2]
NDF flag

The National Defence Forces (NDF) (Arabic: قوات الدفاع الوطني Quwāt ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī) is a pro-government militia, formed after summer 2012[5] and organized by the Syrian government during the Syrian Civil War as a part-time volunteer reserve component of the Syrian military.[6] 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.


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.[5][7][8]

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.[9][10] Since the formation of the NDF, Shabiha members have been incorporated into its structure.[11][12]

Young and unemployed men join the NDF, which some see 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 ISIS.[13] In late June 2015, the Syrian government began arming citizens of this governorate against ISIS, who were harassing the local population with abductions, executions, and plundering. The locals became a large and powerful NDF contingent in the governorate.[13]

Iranian role

The creation of the NDF was personally overseen by Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani.[14] 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", with the NDF recruits receiving training in urban guerilla warfare from Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC) and Hezbollah instructors at facilities inside Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, with this partnership remaining the same as of April 2015.[11] Iran has contributed to gathering together existing neighborhood militias into a functioning hierarchy and provided them with better equipment and training.[5] The United States government has also stated that Iran is helping build the group on the model of its own Basij militia, with some members reportedly being sent for training in Iran.[15]


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

The NDF is claimed to be a secular force. For that reason, many of their members are drawn from Syrian minorities, such as Alawites, Christians, Druzes,[9] and Armenians.[16] According to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, the creation of the group has been successful, as it had played a crucial role in improving the military situation for the government forces in Syria from the 2012 summer, when many analysts predicted the downfall of Assad and his government.[4][17]

The force was reported to be 60,000-strong as of June 2013 and continued to grow to 100,000 (reached in August 2013).[4][18]

Units mostly operate in their local areas, although members can also choose to take part in army operations.[9][19] Others have claimed that the NDF does most of the fighting because NDF members, as locals, have a strong knowledge of the region.[19]

Expanding role

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. Recently they've been used as support infantry to advancing armored units. 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]


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.[2] Local branches are deemed to act with autonomy and to be not cohesive on the provincial level, although there is little uniformity.[20]

Provincial branches seem to be commanded by a senior officer each.[21]

Women's section

Since January 2013, the NDF has a 500-strong women's wing called "Lionesses of National Defence", which operates checkpoints in the Homs area.[22] The women are trained to use Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns and grenades, and taught to storm and control checkpoints.[23]


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.[9]

Alleged infighting with Syrian Army

On 30 April 2015, according to anti-government activists claims, infighting broke out in the Zahraa area of Homs between local NDF fighters and members of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate and Military Intelligence Directorate government security forces, who were attempting to arrest NDF leaders after complaints of lawlessness from the local population. The clashes resulted in several deaths.[24]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  2. 1 2 3 Who are the pro-Assad militias in Syria? Middle East Eye, 25 September 2015
  3. "The Shia crescendo". The Economist. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Syria's Alawite Force Turned Tide for Assad". Wall Street Journal. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Will Fulton, Joseph Holliday, and Sam Wyer, Iranian Strategy in Syria, Institute for the Study of War, May 2013
  6. "SYRIA UPDATE: THE FALL OF AL-QUSAYR". Institute for the Study of War. Retrieved Jun 7, 2013.
  7. Michael Weiss (18 May 2013). "Rise of the Militias in Syria". RealClearWorld.
  8. Lund, Aron (2013-08-27). "The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria". CTC Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. April 21, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  10. Michael Weiss (17 May 2013). "Rise of the militias". NOW.
  11. 1 2 Kozak, Christopher (26 May 2015). "The Regime's Military Capabilities: Part 1". ISW. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  12. "Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement". Reuters. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  13. 1 2 Leith Fadel. "Sweida Residents Fight Back Against ISIS: Terrorist Group Suffers Heavy Losses". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  14. Siegel, Jacob (5 June 2015). "The Myth of Iran's Military Mastermind". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  15. "Signs of Strain on Syria's Military Build". 13 March 2013.
  16. Racha Abi Haidar (8 February 2014). "Armenians in Syria, After the Conflict". Al Akhbar. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  17. Sly, Liz (May 12, 2013). "Assad forces gaining ground in Syria". Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  18. "Syria's civil war: The regime digs in". The Economist. 15 June 2013.
  19. 1 2 Glass, Charles (5 December 2013). "Syria: On the Way to Genocide?". New York Review of Books.
  20. Lund, Aron (2 March 2015). "Who Are the Pro-Assad Militias?". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  21. Larkin, Craig; Kerr, Michael (2015). The Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 220.
  22. Adam Heffez (28 November 2013). "Using Women to Win in Syria". Al-Monitor (Eylül). Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  23. Sly, Liz (2013-01-25). "The all-female militias of Syria". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  24. "Regime fights own militia in Homs". Now Media. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
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