Middle East

Syrian regime steps up army reserve measures

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad hold their weapons as they walk in Al-Mathana area, north of Aleppo after saying they have regained control of the area and its surrounding farms, October 4, 2014. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

BEIRUT: A nationwide effort to bolster the ranks of Syria’s armed forces has been launched by the authorities, according to pro-opposition sources and multiple media reports. The reports said the campaign was taking place in a number of regime-held areas – whether through stepped-up surveillance of military-age men passing through checkpoints, or among the ranks of civil servants who have already performed their military service and are eligible for reserve duty.

An anti-regime activist in the city of Deir al-Zor told The Daily Star that in order to receive their salaries, civil servants in regime-held neighborhoods such as Al-Joura and Qusour have recently been asked to present their military service records.

“They’re looking for males born between 1980 and 1990,” the activist said. “Everyone’s afraid of being taken into the army.”

Several anti-regime media activists described similar, stepped-up measures being taken in Damascus, the Druze-majority province of Swaida, the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, the regime-held parts of Aleppo, and the central city of Homs.

An anti-regime activist in Aleppo said the last week saw “large numbers” of men detained by the authorities for failing to report for military service. “They were especially on the lookout for men who had returned from Lebanon after visiting family.”

Bassam Yousef, a former member of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition, told The Daily Star that while the authorities have periodically conducted efforts to locate men eligible for army service as they pass through checkpoints, the more recent attempts to bolster the ranks of the military involved several new aspects.

In recent years, any young man at a checkpoint would be subject to investigation about his military record, he said, and if the man was detained and sent to the army, society might not be supportive.

“But these days, there is more ‘community support’ for the men who are being called up or taken away to serve,” he said.

Yousef, the Turkey-based editor-in-chief of an opposition newspaper, said the more worrying development was that unlike the early years of the war, he has heard cases of young men who were detained and sent to perform military service – “but they returned very shortly afterward to their families, in coffins, sometimes only after a few days.”

“It would appear that they’re not even undergoing rigorous training before they’re sent into combat.”

Yousef said the development didn’t necessarily reflect a decline in the overall numbers of regime forces, which are believed to be taking dozens of casualties every day in combat actions and other violence.

“It could be because the other militias that support the regime are seeing their numbers drop,” he said, referring to largely Shiite groups from Iraq that have returned home to bolster the effort there against ISIS.

Yousef, a member of the Alawite community, also commented on a statement by a group called the “Free Syrian Alawites,” which circulated this week and urged members of the sect to refuse to report for military service or make themselves available for reserve duty.

The statement claimed the Alawite sect, the backbone of the regime’s military and security bodies, has suffered 60,000 casualties during the war.

“This statement was 100 percent wrong,” Yousef said. “We shouldn’t be talking about the sacrifices of this or that sect just because the casualty figures are rising. We should be acting on a national basis, and oppose the killing of all Syrians.”

“The neighborhood of Waer in Homs is facing a possible massacre,” he said, giving an example.

“We should be talking about that, and not about what a given sect is experiencing,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2014, on page 8.

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