This analysis was originally published on the NotGeorgeSabra Blog
The most notable form of direct American support to the Syrian opposition has been the supply of BGM-71 TOW tube launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided anti-tank missiles to rebel groups, vetted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The missiles themselves come from Saudi Arabia’s stockpile, although by law the supply of American-made weapons to a third party must be approved by the U.S. Reports indicate that the TOWs are handed out to groups by the Northern and Southern MOC (Military Operations Command) based in Turkey and Jordan respectively. These command centers that are run by Western and Arab intelligence agencies. Groups apply for missiles for specific operations, and small batches are supplied by the MOC as needed. No more than a handful are given to a group at any time. In order to prove the rebel groups are not selling them or giving them away, each launch must be recorded and spent casings returned to the MOC. It is due to these requirements that there is such a wealth of knowledge regarding which groups have been supplied with and fielded these weapons.
While the TOWs themselves are not a super-weapon by any means, and are comparable to other ATGMs that are present in Syria they indicate a visible form of American involvement. Several hundreds of missiles have been supplied to opposition brigades, and the program is now a common and devastating fixture on the battlefield. However because each launch must be recorded, a false impression is created that the TOWs are more influential in the war than they actually are. The Syrian rebels have at their disposal a wide variety of anti-tank weaponry, almost entirely captured from Syrian government stockpiles, none of which are required to be recorded and uploaded onto the internet with each launch. These include guided missiles such as the Russian-made 9M113 Konkurs, 9K1152 Metis-M, 9M133 Kornet, Chinese-made HJ-8 (supplied by Qatar), French-German MILAN ATGM as well as non-guided anti-armour weaponry.
This covert and highly successful TOW program is run by the CIA and is separate from the American Department of Defense’s highly publicized and now-failed train-and-equip program that sought to counter only ISIS. Despite the safe measures put in place by the MOC, both the Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State have captured a small number of these weapons. Regardless the program seems to not only be continuing but constantly expanding. The following is a list of all rebel groups that have used TOW missiles. The groups approved by the CIA to take part in the TOW program overwhelmingly belong to the FSA and all have stated their commitment to letting the Syrian people decide their own future. The strengths of these groups range from several hundred to several thousand fighters.
13th Division (Forqat 13)
101st Division Infantry (Forqat 101 Masha’a)
Northern Division (Forqat al-Shamali)
Mountain Hawks Brigade (Liwa’ Suqour al-Jabal)
Army of Victory (Jaish al-Nasr)
1st Coastal Division (Forqat al-Awwali al-Sahli)
2nd Coastal Division (Forqat al-Thani al-Sahli)
Army of Glory (Jaish al-Izza’)
Central Division (Al-Forqat al-Wasti)
Army of Liberation (Jaish al-Tahrir)
Sultan Murad Brigade (Liwa’ Sultan Murad)
16th Division Infantry (Liwa’ 16 Masha’a)
Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki)
Mujahideen Army/Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen)
Revolutionaries of al-Sham Brigades (Kata’eb Thuwar al-Sham)
Fastaqem Kama Umirta Union (Tajammu Fastaqem Kama Umirta)
Elite Islamic Battalions (Kata’eb Safwah al-Islamiyah)
The Sham Legion (Faylaq al-Sham)
1st Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal)
Northern Thunder Brigade (Liwa’ Ra’ad al-Shamal)
Ahmed al-Abdo Martyrs’ Force (Quwwat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Abdo)
2nd Infantry Division (Forqat al-Thani Masha’a)
1st Brigade (Liwa’ al-Awwal)
Al-Rahman Legion (Faylaq al-Rahman)
Martyrs of Islam Brigade (Liwa’ Shuhadah al-Islam)
Yarmouk Army (Jaish al-Yarmouk)
Lions of Sunnah Division (Forqat Usood al-Sunnah)
the 18th March Division (Forqat 18 Adhar)
Southern Tawhid Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid al-Junoub)
Hamza Division (Forqat al-Hamza)
1st Artillery Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal Madfa’a)
Syria Revolutionaries Front – Southern Sector (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya)
The First Corps (Faylaq al-Awwal)
Salah al-Din Division (Forqat Salah al-Din)
Omari Brigades (Tajammu Alwiyat al-Omari)
Unity Battalions of Horan Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid Kata’eb Horan)
Youth of Sunnah Force (Quwwat Shabbab al-Sunnah)
Moataz Billah Brigade (Liwa’ Moataz Billah)
Sword of al-Sham Brigades (Alwiyat Saif al-Sham)
Dawn of Islam Division (Forqat Fajr al-Islam)
Supporters of Sunnah Brigade (Liwa’ Ansar al-Sunnah)
Emigrants and Supporters Brigade (Liwa’ Muhajireen wal Ansar)
Military Council in Quneitra and the Golan
Division of Decisiveness (Forqat al-Hasm)
46th Infantry Division (Forqat 46 Masha’a)
Partisans of Islam Front (Jabhat Ansar al-Islam)
Al-Furqan Brigades (Alwiyat al-Furqan)
Movement of Steadffastness (Harakat Hazm)
Syria Revolutionaries Front (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya)
United Sham Front (Jabhat al-Sham Muwahidda)
Groups in North-Western Syria (Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama Governorates):
13th Division (Forqat 13 – الفرقة 13): Formed in 2013, the 13th Division commands more than 1,800 fighters in the Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama governorates. The Division is divided into 10 companies and is headquartered in the town of Ma’arrat al-Numan in Idlib. It was among the first rebel brigades to begin receiving TOWs. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Al-Sa’oud, the 13th Division has fought in most major battles in the three governorates it operates in. It also participated in the 2015 Idlib and Ghab Plains offensives and has played a major role in the defense of the northern Hama salient against the October 2015 Russian-supported offensive. The Division has been credited with destroying dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles with TOW missiles. The group was listed as a part of the now-defunct Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, and was a member of the Fifth Corps before its dissolution. In Aleppo it operates under the Aleppo Conquest (Fatah Halab) Operations Room. The group also fields units in the Azaz-Mare’a pocket in the northern Aleppo countryside, where it is active in the fight against ISIS. The 13th Division receives funding from the MOC and it advocates the creation of a civil state. The Division has also had tensions with the Nusra Front in the past, and there have been instances when their commander Ahmad al-Sa’oud has been kidnapped by the Nusra Front (now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), only to be released after negotiations and mediation by other groups. Tensions boiled over into open fighting in early 2016 when the Nusra Front, assisted by Jund al-Aqsa fighters attacked 13th Division checkpoints and bases in Idlib. However they were unable to finish off the 13th Division due to the broad popular support the group enjoys in the town of Ma’rrat al-Numan, where civilians have created a protest movement against the excesses of the Nusra Front. While the 13th Division is no longer in open conflict with Al-Nusra (the two were involved in the August 2016 offensive to break the siege of eastern Aleppo), the protest movement continues. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (old channel)
Northern Division (Liwa’ Fursan al-Haqq – لواء فرسان الحق): The Knights of Justice Brigade operates in the Idlib, Hama and Aleppo governorates. It was formed in Idlib and mainly operated there, however with the increasing domination of the province by Nusra, the Knights of Justice have shifted most of their forces to Aleppo City. The brigade still maintains a presence in Idlib, as well as in the Hama governorate. It contains more than 12 substituent battalions numbering over 1,200 fighters. The group is headquartered in the town of Kafranbel where it formed in early 2012 and it is commander by defected officer Lieutenant-Colonel Fares al-Bayoush. The Knights of Justice Brigade have participated in most major battles in Idlib and Hama, such as Morek, Khan Shaykhun, Wadi al-Dayf, Idlib City and Ariha. The Brigade has also deployed TOW units to Aleppo City and the Ghab Plains, as well as fighters against ISIS in northern Aleppo. It is a party to the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, and was a member of the now-defunct Fifth Corps. The Knights of Justice were among the first rebel groups to receive TOW ATGMs by the MOC in early 2014, which they have used very effectively, destroying many dozens of armoured vehicles. It’s Aleppo contingents operate under the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (old channel); Twitter;
101st Division Infantry (Forqat 101 Masha’ – الفرقة 101 مشاة): Led by defected air force pilot Colonel Hassan Miri’l Hamdeh, the 101st Division of the FSA was among the early recipients of TOWs. Colonel Hassan Hamdeh defected by flying his Mig-21 to Jordan in 2012 and asked for political asylum. He later returned to northern Syria to form the 101st Division. The 101st Division operates mainly in the Idlib and Hama governorates with a growing presence in the Aleppo governorate. It boasts over 2,000 fighters and 35 officers who defected from the Syrian military. The group claims a strong military organization and an internal constitution that determines the conduct of leaders and fighters. Just like the Knights of Justice, the 101st Division has recently shifted many of its forces from Idlib to Aleppo city. The Division is active in the fight against both the Syrian regime and ISIS, and has participated in most major battles in Idlib and northern Hama. It too is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room and was a member of the Fifth Corps It notably includes religious minorities in leadership positions. This group has faced long-standing and ongoing tensions with Al-Nusra Front, with sporadic clashes breaking out. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (old channel)Falcons of the Mountain Brigade (Liwa’ Suqour al-Jabal – لواء صقور الجبل): An FSA unit that was once part of the Descendants of the Prophet Brigades (Alwiyat Ahfad al-Rasul) and later the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) coalition led by Jamal Marouf (which formed in early 2014). After leaving the SRF due to internal disputes, Suqour al-Jabal joined the 5th Corps. The group was funded by Qatar and is now funded by the MOC and receives TOWs. It was based in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in Idlib (its former name was Falcons of Mount Zawiya Brigade) and now operates mainly in the Aleppo governorate with a smaller presence in the Idlib and Hama Governorates. After the dissolution of the Hazm Movement, the Falcons of the Mountain have become the most prolific user of TOWs in Aleppo, having deployed dozens of missiles there, claiming numerous regime vehicles. More recently, Suqour al-Jabal has participated in the 2015 offensive on the Ghab Plains in north-western Hama. It’s Aleppo components fight under the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, and its northern Hama components were a part of the Jaish al-Nasr Operations Room (Army of Victory, which was an FSA grouping in northern Hama and not to be confused with Jaish al-Fatah which is sometimes also translated as Army of Victory) Social Media: YouTubeArmy of Victory (Jaish al-Nasr – جيش النصر): Is a large FSA grouping that operates in the northern Hama province, and the Aleppo province. The group claims 5,000 fighters in its ranks, and is composed of three substituent groups; the Grouping of the Falcons of al-Ghab (Tajammu Suqour al-Ghab), the Fighting and Salvation Front (Jabhat al-Inqadh al-Muqatilah) and the 111st Regiment (Al-Fauj 111). The Army is under the command of Major Muhammad al-Mansour, who is also the commander of the Falcons of Al-Ghab. It originally began as an operations room in northern Hama consisting of 15 FSA brigades. Included were the Falcons of Al-Ghab, the Fighting and Salvation Front, the 111st Regiment, Al-Sham Front (Jabhat al-Sham), Falcons of the Mountain Brigade (Liwa’ Suqour al-Jabal), the Army of Glory (Jaish al-Izzah), the 6th Brigade (Liwa’ al-Sadis), Division 111 (Forqat 111), Division 60 (Forqat 60), the Land of al-Sham Brigade (Liwa’ Bilad al-Sham), Revolutionary Fedayeen Movement (Harakat Fedayeen al-Thawriyah), Falcons of Jihad Battalion (Katibat Suqour al-Jihad), Al-Tremseh Martyrs Brigade (Liwa’ Shuhadah al-Tremseh), the Famous Battalions (Kata’eb al-Mashoor), and the Chargers Brigade (Liwa’ al-Aadiyat). Later the three mentioned above coalesced into a single Army and the operations room was superseded by other local coalitions.
- Grouping of the Falcons of al-Ghab (Tajammu Suqour al-Ghab – تجمع صقور الغاب): An FSA brigade that operated in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama. The group fielded over 2,000 fighters and was headquartered in the town of Qalaat al-Madiq which is situated in the Ghab plains. The Falcons of al-Ghab were affiliated with the SMC and are the only Army of Victory component to have received TOWs, using them to devastating effect during the 2015 Al-Ghab offensives. The brigade was formed early in the revolutionary war and played an important role in capturing parts of the Ghab region. The group was involved in most major battles in northern Hama, the Ghab plains, south-western Idlib, and has sent units to fight as far off as Aleppo City and its countryside. This group was also a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, the Aleppo Conquest Operation Room. The group was founded by Jamil Raadoun, a defected lieutenant from the air defence forces. Raadoun was assassinated in August of 2015 in Antakya, Turkey by a car-bomb. The culprit has not been found and is thought to be either the Nusra Front or the pro-regime Alawite militia; Syrian Resistance. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter;
1st Coastal Division (Forqat al-Awwal As-Sahli – الفرقة الأولى الساحلية): An FSA division that operates in the western region of the Idlib governate, the northern Latakia governorate and in the Ghab region of the Hama governorate. The Division was formed after a merger between the Chargers Brigade (Liwa’ al-Aadiyat, a TOW-recipient) and a number of local groups in Idlib and Latakia such as the 1st Brigade, 3rd Brigade, Al-Asifa Brigade and Al-Naser Brigade. It claims 2,800 fighters in its ranks, and a number of armored vehicles. The Chargers Brigade was a former member of the Descendants of the Prophet Brigade (Ahfad al-Rasul). The 1st Coastal Division was vetted by the “Friends of Syria” alliance several months ago and was an early operator of TOWs. It has taken part in the Al-Anfal Offensive in Latakia and participated alongside the Marakat al-Nasr Operations Room (Battle for Victory) to capture the city of Jisr al-Shughour and in the Marakat Sahl al-Ghab Operations Room in the Ghab plains, capturing the town of al-Sirmaniyah. The group is prominent in Latakia as well around the Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal-Turkman fronts. A number of its fighters have been trained in Qatar and the brigade also receives funding from Qatar. It is led by Captain Muhammad Haj Ali and contains Arab and Turkmen fighters in its ranks. The 1st Coastal Division has been among the most prolific and effective users of TOW missiles, scoring dozens of hits on regime vehicles and positions. The success of this group has spawned other “Coastal Divisions” such as the 2nd Coastal Division (an entirely Turkmen group) and the 10th Coastal. There is no organizational link between these divisions. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel) Google+.
The Army of Glory (Jaish al-Izza’ – جيش العزة): The Army of Glory is a group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, operating in the southern Idlib Governorate, the Aleppo Governorate and northern Hama Governorate. It is headquartered in the town of Al-Tamanah in Idlib. The Army (formerly known as the Gathering of Glory) was formed after a merger between local rebel groups such as the Al-Tamanah Martyrs’ Brigade and the Descendants of Abu Obeidah Ibn al-Jarrah Brigade. It is under the command of defected Major Jamil al-Saleh and has become a prolific user of TOW missiles, using them in the 2015 Northern Hama Offensive. Previously the Army of Glory participated in the Badr al-Sham Offensive in northern Hama and in other important battles throughout Idlib and Hama. In Aleppo it fights under the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, and in northern Hama it was a part of the Jaish al-Nasr Operations Room. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter
The Central Division (Al-Forqat al-Wasti – الفرقة الوسطى): The Central Division was formed in September 2015, after a merger between two Free Syrian Army groups that are active primarily in northern Hama and southern Idlib. These groups are the Sword of God Brigade (Liwa Saifullah) and the Army of Conquerors in the Land of Al-Sham (Jaish al-Fatiheen fi Ardh al-Sham). The Division is also active in Idlib and Aleppo, and is a member of the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, and the Jaish al-Nasr Operations Room in northern Hama. The group has played an important role defending against the Russian-backed regime offensive on the northern Hama salient. The Sword of God Brigade was supplied with TOWs several months prior to the formation of this Division. Social Media: YouTube (Saifullah Brigade), YouTube (Jaish al-Fatiheen), Twitter
46th Division (Forqat 46 – الفرقة 46): The 46th Division is a Free Syrian Army group that was formed in February of 2015. It operates mainly around Aleppo city and in the northern Hama salient. It is under the command of a defected officer, Major Abu Taha. This is the most recent group to have been supplied TOW missiles, having used them in the recent regime offensive on northern Hama that is being backed by Russian air cover. Substituent groups within the Division include the 1st Regiment, the 1st Hama Brigade and Saraya al-Haqq (Banner of Truth). Social Media: YouTube; Facebook
Sultan Murad Brigade (Liwa’ Sultan Muad – Sultan Murat Tugayı/لواء السلطان مرد): The Sultan Murad Brigade is a Syrian Turkmen rebel group that is part of the Free Syrian Army. The group is named after Sultan Murad II of the Ottoman Empire, a reference to their Turkish heritage. The Brigade is active in the Aleppo governorate, especially around front lines within Aleppo City such as Handarat. They have also dispatched units to Idlib, which took part in the capture of Jisr al-Shughour. The brigade was part of a now defunct grouping of Turkmen rebels, called the Descendants of the Sultans Brigade (Jabhat Ahfad al-Sultan). It was also a member of the Aleppo Liberation Operations Room, which was superseded by the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, which the Sultan Murad Brigade is also a part of. This group, along with most Syrian Turkmen groups, maintains close ties with and is supported by Turkey. Recently they were supplied with TOW ATGMs, which they have used in fronts around Aleppo and its countryside. One of its former constituents was the Ahfad Hamza Battalion, which has left and become independent. Social Media:; YouTube
Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki – حركة نور الدين الزنكي): The Movement is named after Nour al-Din Zenki, Emir of the Seljuk Sultanate’s Syrian province, who battled the Crusaders and was a contemporary of Saladin. Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is one of Aleppo governorate’s most powerful rebel factions despite being an independent rebel grouping. It played an important role in seizing large parts of Aleppo in 2012. It was once part of the Tawhid Brigade (Liwa’ al-Tawhid), the Authenticity and Development Front, and later the Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen). It is described as non-ideologically Islamist and commanded by Sheikh Ali Syedu (previously under the command of Tawfiq Shahabuddin), Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement recently voiced its support for Etilaf and is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council. The Zenki Movement is active in the fight against ISIS in northern Aleppo, and its main strongholds are in the western Aleppo countryside. It received funding primarily from the Saudi Arabian and U.S. governments as well as shipments of TOWs. Its Islamist rhetoric has shifted towards pragmatism and it believes in a political solution with the current regime. In December, 2014 it joined the Levantine Front (Jabhat al-Shamiyah) alongside the Aleppo Islamic Front, the Authenticity and Development Front, Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen) and the FSA-linked Fastaqim Kama Umart Grouping. Several months later due to internal disputes and lack of cohesion, the Levantine Front dissolved as a single grouping yet continues on as an operations room, which the Zenki Movement is still a member of. Many fighters from the dissolved Hazm Movement ended up joining brigades of the Zenki Movement. The Zenki Movement was not supplied with TOWs as long as it was part of the Levantine Front, and it is suggested that the Movement eschewed backing by the MOC in order to ally with the Islamic Front as part of the LFcoalition. However as the coalition has fell apart, the Zenki Movement began receiving TOWs once again and continues to be an active user. It is a part of the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, alongside almost every non-extremist faction in Aleppo province. The Movement has recently had tensions and clashes with Al-Nusra. These were resolved quickly but do highlight how Al-Nusra does have its sights set on other powerful moderate factions in northern Syria. Social Media: YouTube;
Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen): Jaish-al-Mujahideen is a coalition of Islamic groups that are a part of the Free Syrian Army. Its main base of operations is in the Aleppo Governorate, where it has a strong presence within Aleppo City and in the northern and western Aleppo countryside. The group also maintains a smaller presence in Idlib. The Army of Holy Warriors was formed from a merger between the Zenki Movement, the 19th Division of the FSA, the Islamic Light Movement, the Fastaqim Kama Umirta Gathering, the Ansar Brigade and a number of other groups. The Army splintered soon after with the Zenki Movement leaving followed by the Fastaqim Kama Umirta Gathering. Nonetheless, it remains an important rebel grouping in the Aleppo governorate. They were a member of the Ahl-al-Sham Operations Room (alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front) and fought against ISIS through the Nahrawan al-Sham Operations Room. As of September 2014, Army of Holy Warriors had completed the U.S. vetting process and it later fired TOW missiles alongside the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement. It was led by Lt. Col. Mohamad al-Bakour (Abu Bakr) and estimates put the group’s strength at around a couple thousand fighters. Army of Holy Warriors maintains close relations with local civilian governing councils and with Etilaf. While the coalition was announced when the rebel war on ISIS first began, the group spent four months planning prior to the announcement. The Mujahideen Army was among the groups that formed the Levantine Front in Aleppo, and like the Zenki Movement it too forewent MOC backing in exchange for a merger with the Islamic Front. After the dissolution of the Levantine Front, the Mujahideen Army remained a part of the Levantine Front Operations Room. The group faced continued splintering, as sub-units left to form the Revolutionaries of Al-Sham Brigades (Kata’eb Thuwar al-Sham). These sub-units included the Glory of Islam Brigade (Amjad al-Islam), the Islamic Light Movement, the Al-Quds Brigade among others. After its dissolution, some fighters from the Hazm Movement joined the Ansar Brigade, a sub-unit of the Mujahideen Army. This group has not been documented with TOWs since it joined the Levantine Front. After the Levantine Front dissolved, the Mujahideen Army has still not been documented using TOWs. It is a member of the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room. Social Media: Youtube; Facebook
Revolutionaries of Al-Sham Brigades (Kata’eb Thuwar al-Sham – كتائب ثوار الشام): The Thuwar al-Sham Brigades were formed in April of 2015, by a number of FSA-linked groups that broke off from the Mujahideen Army (which at that time was still a member of the Levantine Front) and other smaller brigades. These included the Glory of Islam Brigade (Liwa Amjad al-Islam) and the Islamic Light Movement (Harakat Noor al-Islamiyah), the Gathering of the Rightly Guided Brigades (Tajammu Kata’eb al-Huda) along with smaller battalions such as the Ansar Martyrs’, Al-Quds, Lions of Islam, Swords of Islam, Fath al-Mubin, Asad al-Khilafah and others. Thuwar al-Sham operates primarily in Aleppo city and its countryside (against the regime and ISIS), though it has sent units to Idlib, which participated in the 2015 Idlib Offensive led by the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah). The group is commanded by Captain Naji Mustafa and has over 2,500 fighters in its ranks. It was supplied with TOW missiles in October of 2015, which they have used against the regime in Aleppo’s southern countryside. In Aleppo it operates under the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room. Social Media: YouTube
The 1st Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal – الفوج الأول): A former component of the Tawhid Brigade, the 1st Regiment broke off from the Levantine Front in May of 2015. This group operates primarily in Aleppo city and its northern countryside, but have sent units to fight in the Hama governorate as well. It is a member of the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room, and has recently been supplied with TOW missiles, which they have deployed in Hama. Social Media: YouTube
Groups in Southern Syria (Damascus, Daraa and Quneitra Governorates)
Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs’ Force (Quwwat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Abdo – قوات الشهيد أحمد العبدو): An FSA and Southern Front-linked group that operates primarily in the Qalamoun and northern Rif Dimashq regions. Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs’ Force first used TOW missiles in May of 2014 and have also been in possession of Chinese-made HJ-8 anti-tank missiles (supplied by Qatar and sourced from Sudan). The Force has been involved in the capture of Brigade 559 and the siege of Dumayr airbase. More recently the grouping has been very active in the fight against ISIS in Eastern Qalamoun and the Homs Desert, carrying out operations and releasing joint videos with the Army of the Lions of the East (Jaish Usood al-Sharqiyah) and the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam). This group was one of the earliest recipients of TOWs, and was most likely among the first to be vetted. It is under the command of a defected colonel, Bakur Salim al-Salim, who also heads the military council in the Damascus governorate, and was also the Southern Front’s commander for the Damascus countryside. The group is named after Lieutenant Ahmad al-Abdo, a former leader. They are also part of a unified military and judicial operations room that includes all major factions in Eastern Qalamoun. The operations room is focused primarily on ousting ISIS from the area. It is suspected that the TOWs ISIS captured and deployed in Eastern Qalamoun were most likely seized from either this group or from the Rahman Legion. After a long hiatus, the group was once again documented using TOW missiles in September 2015, against ISIS targets in the Eastern Qalamoun desert. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel); YouTube (older channel)
Al-Rahman Legion (Faylaq al-Rahman – فيلق الرحمن): A large grouping of FSA-aligned rebels that operates in the Damascus suburbs (it is the largest group in the Jobar district), the East Ghouta pocket and in Eastern Qalamoun. It is a member of the Unified Military Command in Ghouta (under the leadership of Zahran Alloush of the Army of Islam, this coalition includes all armed groups in Ghouta except for al-Nusra), as well as the unified operations room in Eastern Qalamoun. The latter is aimed at fighting both the Syrian regime and ISIS and also contains the Islamic Front, Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs’ Forces, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Army of Eastern Lions (Jaish Usood al-Sharqiyah). Recently Al-Rahman Legion also created a joint command operations room with the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam). Al-Rahman Legion is under the command of Captain Abed al-Naser Shmer and has used TOW missiles once, in Eastern Qalamoun. The TOW missiles captured by ISIS in Qalamoun came from either the Ahmad al-Abdo Force or from Al-Rahman Legion. The Legion claims to have 7,000 fighters in its ranks. Substituent groups include Al-Baraa Brigade, Al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigades, Um al-Qara Brigade, Jund al-Asimah Brigade among many others. Their name is derived from one of the 99 names of God, Al-Rahman (The Benificient). Social Media: YouTube; Website (website has links to all their social media)
Martyrs of Islam Brigade (Liwa’ Shuhada al-Islam – لواء شهداء الإسلام): An FSA-banner group that operates in Daraya, a southern suburb of Damascus. The Martyrs of Islam Brigade is the largest group in Daraya, with most of its fighters being from the local area. It is the only rebel group that is completely under the authority of a local civilian council and operates with its approval. It has recently been vetted and supplied with TOWs despite Daraya being under a tight siege. A complex system of tunnels and smuggling routes has not only allowed this brigade to survive but to also wage offensives and seize land from the regime in Damascus. This group is also a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. Substituents include the Martyrs of Daraya Battalion, Martyrs of the Revolution Battalion, the Descendants of Saladin, Lions of Sunnah and the Lions of Tawhid Battalion. Social Media: YouTube; website.
Yarmouk Army (Jaish al-Yarmouk – جيش اليرموك): A prominent FSA group operating in southern Syria’s Daraa and Quneitra governorates, the Yarmouk Army fields more than 4,000 men andnumerous tanks. It claims to be the largest single brigade fighting in the south. The group has a strong presence in Daraa City as well. They are a key component in the Southern Front coalition and their leader, Bashar al-Zoubi, is the overall leader of the Southern Front. The group recognized the SMC, has received support from Saudi Arabia, and is equipped with TOWs. It is named after the Yarmouk river which flows through the area. They are not to be confused with the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade, which are an ISIS front-group in Daraa. The Yarmouk Army has participated in almost every single major battle in Daraa and Quneitra such as Nawa, Sheikh Miskeen, Tal Harrah etc. They were a member of the now-defunct Falcons of the South Alliance operations room. Social Media: YouTube, alternate YouTube (The second YouTube link is that of a substituent brigade within the Yarmouk Army, the Kharbat Ghazaleh Brigade)
Lions of Sunnah Division (Forqat Usood al-Sunnah – فرقة أسود السنة): A member of the Southern Front coalition that has received TOW missiles through the southern MOC in Jordan. The Lions of Sunnah Division operates in the Dara’a and Quneitra provinces and has participated in most major battles throughout these regions. The Lions of Sunnah Brigade grew into the Lions of Sunnah Division after absorbing several smaller rebel battalions. This group was a member of the Falcons of the South Alliance, the largest rebel grouping in Daraa and Quneitra with thousands of fighters under its unified military command. The Alliance has gone inactive now. Social Media: YouTube
18th March Division (Forqat 18 Adhar – فرقة 18 آذار): The 18th March Division was one of the earliest FSA brigades to form in Daraa, created in 2013. It is primarily active in Daraa City and its surrounding countryside. The name refers to March 18, 2011, termed the ‘Day of Dignity’ when protests first broke out in Daraa City, The Division is under the command of defected Colonel Mohammed Khaled al-Duhni, and was formed after a merger between the Southern Tawhid Brigade (which later left the Division), the Horan Liberation Brigade and the Horan Martyrs’ Brigade. Other substituents of the Division include the Al-Intisam Billah Brigade, the Engineering and Rocket Battalion, and the Artillery Battalion. The 18th March Division has been supplied TOW missiles and is a member of the Southern Front as well as the inactive Falcons of the South Alliance (Suqour al-Junoub). Social Media: Facebook; YouTube
Southern Tawhid Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid al-Junoub – لواء توحيد الجنوب): The Southern Unity Brigade was one of the first FSA groups to form in the Daraa Governorate. A member of the Southern Front, this group is led by Malek Hassan al-Musalima. They have been supplied with TOW missiles. The Southern Tawhid’s main powerbase is in the southern Daraa province, and it has been a part of most major offensives in the region. This group was once a member of the 18th March Division, before leaving due to internal disputes. The Southern Tawhid is not related to the Tawhid Brigade of Aleppo (which is now known as the Levantine Front). Social Media: YouTube;
Hamza Division (Forqat al-Hamza – فرقة الحمزة): An FSA-banner group composed of six substituent brigades that operate mostly in the environs of Inkhil, Daraa. The Hamza Division has received TOW ATGMs and it works under the supervision of the Daraa Military Council. They receives foreign support from Western and Arab state backers and are a member of the Southern Front coalition. The Southern Front has stated their commitment to a civil state, and have released a comprehensive political program in support of democratic reform. The Division came together with the Syria Revolutionaries Front and the 1st Artillery Regiment to create the 1st Army, which later disbanded. The Hamza Division continues using the 1st Army imagery alongside its own while the other former substituents do not. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel)
1st Artillery Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal Madfa’a – الفوج الاول مدفعية): As the name signifies, this armed group operates mostly rockets, mortars, and artillery. The 1st Artillery Regiment is an FSA-banner group that is also a part of the Southern Front coalition. This group was formed by the Daraa Military Council in an effort to create functionally named military units. It is under the command of the defected Major Abd al-Latif al-Hawrani. The presence of defected officers in leading positions of many of these groups is notable since those holding extremist views would not have risen to high ranks in the Syrian army. The 1st Artillery Regiment has been supplied with TOWs and also fields a variety of other anti-tank guided missiles. They have provided artillery support to other rebel groups during many battles in Quneitra and Daraa. It was a member of the now-defunct First Army. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel)
Syria Revolutionaries Front – Southern Sector (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya – جبهة ثوار سوريا): The Southern Syria Revolutionaries Front was established in May of 2014 after a union of more than a dozen smaller brigades. Leaders of the SRF’s Southern Sector included Ahmed al-Nemeah (who later relinquished command due to controversy) and Abu Osama al-Jolani. Despite being a branch of the overall SRF structure, the Southern Sector was never under direct command of Jamal Maarouf and acted independently of the northern SRF. Substituent units such as the Omari Brigades, Al-Anfal Brigade and many others were provided TOW missiles by the southern MOC. Even as the northern SRF was driven out of its strongholds by Al-Nusra, the southern SRF was never involved as there were never any organizational links between the two. The southern SRF was a member of the now-defunct First Army, and operates independently now. It contains thousands of fighters in its ranks and is among the strongest groups within the Southern Front. The Southern SRF operates in Daraa, Quneitra provinces and in the Damascus province in the Western Ghouta region. Social Media: Facebook; YouTube
1st Corps (Faylaq al-Awwal – الفيلق الأول): Formed in August, 2014, with around 45 substituent battalions within it, this group claims thousands of fighters under its banner. The First Corps are a major Southern Front coalition member that has also been supplied with TOW ATGMs. It is active in the Daraa and Quneitra Governorates and is perhaps an example of the wider trend to adopt military rather than religious or symbolic nomenclature. Constituent brigades include the Southern Storm Brigade, the Harimayn al-Sharifayn Brigade, the Knights of Freedom Brigade (Fursan al-Hurriyah), the 99th Division, the 21st Division, among others and formerly the Dawn of Unity Division and the Salah al-Din Division. The Dawn of Unity and the Salah al-Din Division had been documented deploying TOW missiles. Social Media:; YouTube
The Dawn of Unity Division (Forqat Fajr al-Tawhid – فرقة فجر التوحيد): The Dawn of Unity is a group operating in southern Syria. Originally called the Dawn of Unity Brigade, it upgraded itself to a division after absorbing a number of smaller rebel groups, such as the Saiqa Force Brigade and the Banner of Islam Brigade. It is still not division strength, despite the name. The Dawn of Unity has been supplied with TOW ATGMs. It was a member of the 1st Corps before becoming and independent grouping once again. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook
Salah al-Din Division (Forqat Salah al-Din – فرقة صلاح الدين): The Salah al-Din Division is an original signatory of the Southern Front coalition, and was one of the founding members of the First Corps. This group has recently been supplied with TOW missiles in 2015, and is named after Salah al-Din al-Ayyoubi, the famed Muslim commander during the Crusades. It later left the 1st Corps for unknown reasons. Social Media: YouTube
The Omari Brigades (Tajammu Alwiyat al-Omari – تجمع الوية العمري): The first FSA unit formed in the Daraa Governorate, the Omari Brigades are a part of the Southern Front coalition, and once were members of the Syria Revolutionaries Front – Southern Branch. This group has been supplied and funded by Saudi Arabia and was one of the first operators of TOW missiles. Their main powerbase is the Lajat region in southern Syria, a rocky plateau in Daraa’s north-east but it also operates throughout the whole province. The brigade is named after the Omari Mosque in Daraa city, which was an important symbol for the opposition in the early days of protests. (The mosque, in turn, is named after Caliph Omar.) The group was founded by defected Captain Qais al-Qahtaneh, the first officer to defect in Daraa province. He was later killed after personal disputes with an activist. After the SRF joined the First Army, the Omari Brigades seemed to have left the coalition. The Omari Brigades are part of the Lions of War Operations Room, a military structure within the Southern Front aimed at coordinating operations in Daraa’s eastern countryside. Social Media: Twitter; YouTube; YouTube (older channel); YouTube (older channel);
Unity Battalions of Horan Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid Kata’ib Horan – لواء توحيد كتائب حوران): An FSA-banner group based in the Horan region of southern Syria. This brigade is active in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates and is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. The group was originally formed by Major Mohammad al-Turkmani who was later killed in battles with the regime. The Unity Battalion of Horan has been provided with TOWs and has participated in a number of important battles in Daraa such as the capture of Tall Harrah. This group is a part of the Lions of War Operations Room, which includes three other TOW recipients also listed here. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook
Youth of Sunnah Division (Liwa’ Shabbab ul-Sunnah – فرقة شباب السنة): An FSA brigade in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates, the Youth of Sunnah have received TOWs and are members of the Southern Front coalition. Their main powerbase is in the eastern countryside of Daraa province. This group has participated in many battles in eastern Daraa such as the Battle of Busra al-Sham, the defense of Busra al-Harir and the seizure of Nassib border crossing. The Youth of Sunnah are also members of the Lions of War Operations Room. Formerly known as the Youth of Sunnah Brigade, it now calls itselg the Youth of Sunnah Division. Social Media: YouTube;
Moataz Billah Brigade (Liwa’ al-Moataz Billah – لواء المعتز بالله): This was one of the earliest FSA groups formed in Daraa. The Moataz Billah Brigades were recently supplied with TOW missiles by the southern MOC after undergoing a vetting process. This group is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition and is also a member of the Lions of War Operations Room. The Moataz Billah Brigades have in the past clashed with the Islamic Muthanna Movement. The Brigade is under the command of Colonel Khalid al-Nabulsi. The Moataz Billah Brigade are active within Daraa City, as well as its surrounding countryside. The group participated in the seizure of Nassib Border Crossing, as well as in other major battles in Daraa. Social Media: YouTube;
Sword of al-Sham Brigades (Alwiyat Saif al-Sham – ألوية سيف الشام): A Free Syrian Army group hailing originally from Damascus, the Sword of al-Sham now fights primarily in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates. They have participated in the recent rebel advances in the south and were a part of the 2012 and 2013 rebel offensive into central Damascus City and its suburbs to the north. Components of this group such as the Ezz Brigade and the Jesus Christ Brigade have received TOWs and it is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. The Sword of al-Sham claims 4,000 fighters in its ranks and is under the command of Abu Salah al-Shami. The name for the Jesus Christ Brigade (Liwa’ Saeed al-Masih), was chosen to appear non-sectarian and appeal to the Christian villages in which the brigade operated in. The Sword of al-Sham, along with other Southern Front signatories such as the First Army and the Yarmouk Army, condemned Al-Nusra’s ideology and discontinued all forms of cooperation with it. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel); Ezz Brigade YouTube
Dawn of Islam Division (Forqat Fajr al-Islam – فرقة فجر الإسلام): One of the earliest FSA groups to arise in the Daraa governorate, the Dawn of Islam Brigade recently merged with a number of smaller groups to create the Dawn of Islam Division. The division has been supplied with TOWs and is closely affiliated with the Daraa Military Council as well as being a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. This group is active in the ‘Uthman and Tafas districts of Daraa city as well as in the Busra al-Harir region in the north-east of the province. It is under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Hassan Salama. The Dawn of Islam Division contains mostly local tribal fighters from Daraa and Quneitra. It is not to be confused with a number of other rebel brigades with similar names operating in Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo. The Dawn of Islam, like most Southern Front groups, has participated in the recent rebel advances in 2014 and 2015. Social Media: YouTube; FacebookSupporters of Sunnah Brigade (Liwa’ Ansar al-Sunnah – لواء انصار السنة): An FSA group operating in Daraa and Quneitra that was once affiliated with the Southern SRF, the Supporters of Sunnah Brigade is also a member of the Southern Front coalition. They are recipients of several TOW missiles that have been used against regime tanks and vehicles. Not to be confused with a number of groups operating throughout the region with the exact same name, many of whom espouse an extreme ideology. Social Media: YouTube.
Horan Column Division (Forqat Amoud Horan – فرقة عمود حوران ): An FSA-banner unit operating in Daraa and Quneitra and a member of the Southern Front coalition. Like all Southern Front signatories, the Horan Column Division has called for civil governance and a state built on human rights. Such moderate leanings are an important reason why so many groups like the Horan Column Division operating in the south have been supplied with TOWs. Important leaders include Colonel Ahmed al-Omar and Colonel Jihad Saad al-Din. The Horan Column Division participated in the captures of Tell Harrah, the Battles of Nawa and Sheikh Miskeen as well as in most battles and offensives in the south. The group maintains a strong presence in the town of Busra al-Harir. The name refers to the Horan region in southern Syria, a rocky plateau. Social Media: YouTube; FacebookEmigrants and Supporters Brigade (Liwa’ Muhajireen wal Ansar – لواء المهاجرين والانصار): One of the earliest FSA battalions declared in the Daraa governorate, it was created and led by two military defectors, Captain Iyad Qaddour and Captain Khalid Fathallah. It was affiliated with the Daraa Military Council and is a member of the moderate Southern Front coalition. Its leaders were also affiliated with the SMC. The Emigrants and Supporters Brigade have been vetted and have received TOWs. They also received a large number of Chinese HJ-8s previously. This group is not to be confused with the Chechen-led group in Aleppo, Army of Emigrants and Supporters (Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar), which has now joined Al-Nusra Front. The name refers to the original community of believers in Medina under the Prophet Muhammad. The emigrants (muhajireen) were those who fled persecution in Mecca and the supporters (ansar) were natives of Medina who aided the Prophet and the emigrants. Despite the name, this brigade does not contain any foreign fighters and its composition is entirely local Syrians from the south. Social Media: YouTube; FacebookMilitary Council in Quneitra and the Golan (Al-Majlis al-Askari fi Quneitra w’al Jolan – المجلس العسكري في القنيطرة والجولان): An FSA coalition that operates in Quneitra. At least one substituent, the Grandsons Brigade (Liwa’ as-Sabiteen) has fielded TOW missiles. Other substituents include the Free Men of Jabata Brigade and the Lions of the Golan Brigade The Quneitra Military Council was once led by Brigadier General Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir who is now Chief of Staff of the SMC. It is now led by Abu Abdullah. The Military Council in Quneitra has played an important role in the recent advances here. Substituent groups went on to later create an ambitious project the ‘United Syrian Army.’ However this coalition did not survive long, and was later superseded by ‘The Gathering of Free Men of the South’ (Tajammu Ahrar al-Junoub). The old YouTube channel for the Quneitra Military Council was later used by both the United Syrian Army and now the Gathering of Free Men. As of recent, the Military Council seems to have reformed and is taking part in the recent advances in Quneitra province. Social Media: YouTube; YouTube (older channel)
United Levant Front (Jabhat al-Sham Muwahidda – جبهة الشام الموحدة): A coalition of FSA groups that operates in Daraa, Quneitra and the southern Damascus Governroate. The United Levant Front is a member of the Southern Front, and constituent brigades within the coalition include the Damascus Martyrs’ Brigade,and the Lions of Al-Rahman Brigade. The Front has fielded TOW missiles, though have not been seen fielding them in the past few months. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter YouTube (Damascus Martyrs’ Brigade channel)
69th Special Forces Division (Forqat 69 Quwwat al-Khassa – الفرقة 69 قوات خاصة): The 69th Division is an FSA-banner coalition and a member of the Southern Front, active in the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra. This Division has been supplied with TOW ATGMs, and its main areas of operation are in the north-western Daraa countryside. Substituent brigades of the 69th Special Forces include the Free Men of Inkhil Brigade, the Murabitoun Brigade, the Lions of Islam Brigade, Fath al-Mubin Brigade, Al-Bayt Brigade and a number of others. The group is under the command of Colonel Mohamed al-Asaad. Social Media: Facebook; YouTube (Al-Bayt Channel); YouTube (Ahrar Inkhil Channel); YouTube (Lions of Islam Brigade channel)
11th Special Forces Division (Forqat 11 Quwwat al-Khassa – الفرقة 11 قوات خاصة): The 11th Special Forces Division are an FSA-affiliate group that operates in the Damascus Governorate in the Qalamoun Mountains and the Eastern Qalamoun desert. The Division was formed by Colonel Abdullah al-Rifai and is a member of the Southern Front coalition. The Division is also a part of the Gathering of Western Qalamoun (Tajammu Qalamoun al-Gharbiya), a grouping of major FSA brigades that operate in the Qalamoun Mountains near the Syria-Lebanon border. The group has been supplied with TOW missiles and has used them a limited number of times. It is unknown whether or not the Division is still active as it has not been seen on any social media for several months. Social Media: Facebook;
Partisans of Islam Front (Jabhat Ansar al-Islam -جبهة انصار الاسلام ): An independent Islamist brigade operating against the regime across the Quneitra and Daraa governorates, Jabhat Ansar al-Islam is the most hardline Islamist group to be provided with TOWs. Its main powerbase is in Quneitra and this group partook in the Quneitra offensives that saw 80% of the province seized by rebels. They were also involved in the Battles of Nawa and Sheikh Miskeen. The Partisans of Islam Front has recently established a small presence in the Idlib and Hama Governorates as well. It is under the command of Abu Mohamed al-Jolani (not to be confused with the leader of Al-Nusra, who has the same nom de guerre), and representatives from this Front have met with officials from the exiled political opposition in Turkey (Etilaf). This group is also a part of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter
Al-Furqan Brigades (Alwiyat al-Furqan -ألوية الفرقان): The Furqan Brigades are an independent Islamist group operating in Damascus, Quneitra and Daraa provinces. The group claims a couple thousand fighters in its ranks, and it has established a presence in northern province of Idlib as well. It also has a presence in the suburbs of Damascus and in East Ghouta. The Furqan Brigades have participated in most major rebel offensives in the south, and the northern Furqan Brigades also took part in the capture of Ariha and Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib. The group is under the command of Mohammad Majid al-Khatib, one of the youngest rebel commanders of prominence. Al-Khatib was reportedly involved in the negotiations that would lead to the creation of the Islamic Front, but the Furqan Brigades were left out of the Front when it was formed, much to al-Khatib’s dismay. The group has recently been vetted by the southern MOC in Jordan and supplied with TOW ATGMs. The Brigades also claim to be the largest Islamic grouping in southern Syria. It is named after a chapter in the Qu’ran, Al-Furqan which refers to the criterion between good and evil. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter
Non-Vetted Groups That Have Captured/Fielded TOW ATGMs
Support Front for the People of the Levant (Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham – جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام): Also known as Tazeem Qaidat ul-Jihad fi Bilad ash-Shaam (Organization for the Base of Jihad in the Levant), Jabhat al-Nusra is the official Al-Qaida affiliate in Syria and Lebanon. The group was formed by fighters sent by the Islamic State of Iraq (which was then the official Al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq), when the civil war in Syria first broke out. Al-Nusra quickly rose to become one of the most powerful rebel factions in all of Syria. Despite losing a number of its fighters when ISIS was first formed and losing their main strongholds after being expelled from the Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, Al-Nusra is still one of the most influential rebel groups. Despite being labelled a terrorist group by the United States, the Al-Nusra Front has fielded TOW ATGMs a number of times, after having captured them from vetted rebels. After defeating the Syria Revolutionaries Front and the Hazm Movement in Idlib, Al-Nusra deployed several TOW missiles in the captures of Wadi al-Dayf and Hamidiyah Military Bases. After defeating the Hazm Movement in western Aleppo and Regiment 46, Al-Nusra once again captured and deployed TOW missiles, using them in the Battle of Idlib City. It seems all of Al-Nusra’s captured TOWs have been exhausted as no more videos have been released.
Islamic State (Dawlat al-Islamiyyah – الدولة الإسلامية): Commonly referred to as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) or Da’esh (Arabic acronym), Islamic State came over from Iraq after forcing a merger between itself and Al-Nusra Front. It was due to this conflict that ISIS was expelled from Al-Qaida and later went to war with Al-Nusra. ISIS preferred to take over areas already captured by the rebels, embedding itself behind front lines and slowly establishing its control. While it allied with rebel groups early on, in the beginning of 2014 almost every rebel group had declared war on ISIS. By June that year, ISIS had entrenched itself in the Raqqah, Deir-ez-Zor and southern Hasakah Governorates. It controls a third of Syria and Iraq, and has declared a world-wide Caliphate. ISIS units also operate in the Syrian hinterlands such as in the Homs Desert and in Eastern Qalamoun. It is here that ISIS captured TOW ATGMs, most likely from either the Rahman Legion, or from the Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs’ Force. The group never released any videos, only pictures of themselves deploying the missile against regime targets in Eastern Qalamoun. The remaining missiles they seized were later captured by the Army of Lions of the East, a non-vetted Syrian rebel group and Authenticity and Development Front affiliate.
Army of the Lions of the East (Jaish Usood al-Sharqiyah – جيش أسود الشرقية): The Lions of the East are an affiliate of the Authenticity and Development Front (Jabhat al-Asala wal Tanmiya), and are active in Eastern Qalamoun, the Homs Desert and a small presence in the suburbs of Damascus. The Authenticity and Development Front is a country-wide coalition of Saudi-supported Islamist rebel groups. Despite flying the revolutionary/independence flag, the Front is not a part of the Free Syrian Army. However its leadership does have ties with the exiled opposition, and the Front is a part of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council. The Lions of the East were formed in 2014 by groups originally from the eastern governorate of Deir-ez-Zor, that were later expelled by ISIS when the latter overran rebel positions in the province. The Lions fled southwards into the Homs Desert and Eastern Qalamoun, where they have carried with them a fierce grudge against ISIS. In Eastern Qalamoun, this group captured a number of TOW missiles from ISIS bands, and deployed them against both the regime and ISIS. Only a handful of missiles were captured, and the supply seems to have been exhausted. The Lions of the East are the only non-extremist group to have captured TOW missiles, and represent how proliferation of weapons can spread quite far. This group is a part of a number of different operations rooms and coalitions aimed at combatting ISIS and the regime in the Damascus countryside. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter
5th Corps (Faylaq al-Khams – الفليق الخامس): The 5th Corps was a formation declared in 2014 consisting of five moderate rebel groups linked to the FSA’s Supreme Military Council (SMC). All substituents had adopted the revolutionary independence flag as their symbol. Led by a joint command council, it consisted of the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Knights of Justice Brigade, Falcons of the Mountain Brigade, and the 1st Brigades. The first four had been documented using TOW missiles provided by the international “Friends of Syria” alliance led by the U.S. through the Military Operations Command center in Reyhanli, Turkey. Active in northern Syria, the 5th Corps commanded a few thousand men who fought against both the Syrian regime and ISIS. By the end of the year Corps had disbanded due to internal disputes, and substituent groups went their separate ways. The Corps’ YouTube channel is now used exclusively by the 101st Division, but if one goes back far enough 5th Corps videos are there. Social Media: YouTube
Movement of Steadfastness/Hazm Movement (Harakat Hazm – حركة حزم): The first group to receive TOWs and the most well-known FSA group officially designated “moderate.” The Movement of Steadfastness at its height fielded over 5,000 fighters dispersed throughout the Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, and Homs governorates as well as the northern areas of the Damascus governorate. It was formed in early 2014 after the union of 22 smaller rebel brigades. Many of the constituents were once part of the Northern Farouq Brigades. Leaders of the Movement of Steadfastness included Bilal Atar and Abdullah Awda. The Movement of Steadfastness had received the most international support due to its moderate political leanings and strong military organization and was said to have the strongest relationship with American intelligence. Along with TOWs, the group also fielded a large number of artillery pieces and armoured vehicles. This group used TOWs to devastating effect, famously destroying three parked jets with the missiles.The Movement of Steadfastness fought in a number of fronts and battles including Sheikh Najjar, Khan Shaykhun, Handarat, Morek, northern Homs, and in the Aleppo countryside (against ISIS). It was a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and fought ISIS as part of the Nahrawan al-Sham Operations Room alongside mostly Islamist groups (but excluding Jabhat al-Nusra). A number of its fighters had been trained in Qatar. During the infighting between Al-Nusra and the SRF in Idlib, the Hazm Movement was also targeted and ended up being driven out of Idlib province by Al-Nusra. Beginning in 2015, the Hazm Movement experienced another round of tensions with the Al-Nusra Front. Both groups accused each other of kidnapping its members and executing prisoners. Open warfare between the two soon broke out in March of 2015. In a bid for protection, the Hazm Movement joined the Levantine Front, but Levantine Front substituents were unwilling to war against Al-Nusra on Hazm’s behalf. After Al-Nusra captured Regiment 46, a major Hazm stronghold in Western Aleppo, the leaders of the Hazm Movement dissolved the group entirely and declared its fighters a part of the Levantine Front. Further negotiations led to Al-Nusra giving up all captured points in western Aleppo province, including Regiment 46, to the Levantine Front. Hazm’s leaders fled to Turkey while its fighters joined the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, the Ansar Brigade (a Mujahideen Army sub-unit), and local groups such as the Ibn Taymiyyah Brigade. Some ex-Hazm affiliates are now part of a new northern coalition, the Army of Revolutionaries (Jaish al-Thuwar) which also include ex-SRF affiliates, the Kurdish Front (Jabhat al-Akrad), and the Northern Sun Battalion (Shams al-Shamal, an FSA group operating in the Kobani Canton). Al-Nusra captured a number of TOW missiles from Regiment 46, which were later used by them in the Battle of Idlib City. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter; website.
Syria Revolutionaries Front – Northern Components (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya – جبهة ثوار سوريا): Established in December 2013, the SRF was formed after a merger between a large number of moderate brigades in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces. The group was under the command of Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syria Martyrs’ Brigade which was the most prominent group of the coalition. At its height the SRF boasted nearly 15,000 fighters. Groups that later went on to form the Fifth Corps, the Hazm Movement and the Mujahideen Army were all once part of the Syria Revolutionaries Front. The grouping was also supplied and funded by Saudi Arabia and the United States. At least two components of the northern SRF were supplied TOW missiles. The SRF coalition played an important role in ridding Idlib governorate of ISIS completely in early 2014. Following long-standing tensions between Al-Nusra Front and the SRF, open warfare broke out. Nusra had slowly been seizing SRF areas throughout 2014, including Harem and Darkoush in northern Idlib. Many rebel groups had routinely accused the SRF of corruption and shying away from battlefields. The SRF was defeated by a coalition of Jabhat al-Nusra, Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham during November of 2014 and was expelled from its strongholds in Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib. SRF forces throughout northern Syria either fled to Turkey or shed the SRF name and accepted Al-Nusra’s domination of the region. As a result of the SRF’s dissolution, Al-Nusra is now the dominant force in the Zawiya Mountains of Idlib. Jamal Maarouf fled to Turkey for several months, but as of May 2015 he has reportedly returned with dozens of fighters to reinforce the People’s Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in the Kurdish Kobani Canton. Several ex-SRF affiliates have joined the newly created Army of Revolutionaries (Jaish al-Thuwar) coalition.
- Syrian Martyr’s Brigades and Battalions (Tajammu Alwiyat wa Kata’eb Shuhadah Souriya – تجمع كتائب و ألوية شهداء سوريا): Earlier known as the Martyrs of Jabal Zawiyah Brigade, it was one of the oldest FSA brigades formed. The Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade was formed by Jamal Maarouf and made up the leading component in SRF. Their powerbase was in the Jabal al-Zawiyah region, an important opposition stronghold. Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade operated throughout the Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates. They had received support from Saudi Arabia and were supplied with TOWs. The group is now defunct. Social Media: Facebook;
- Ansar Brigades (Alwiyat al-Ansar – ألوية الأنصار): An FSA group, the Supporters Brigades were a founding member of SRF. This group operated in the the Idlib and Hama governorates. Formed in 2012 in the southern suburbs of Ma’arat al Numan, they were led by Mithqal al-Abdullah. This group was supplied with and deployed TOWs against a number of regime vehicles. They were defeated by Jabhat al-Nusra during the November 2014 SRF-Nusra infighting, and Al-Nusra later burned down the house of the group’s leader. As a result the Ansar Brigades are defunct. Social Media: YouTube;
The 1st Army (Al-Jaish al-Awwal – الجيش الأول): This group was created in January of 2015 in an effort to unite rebel groups within the Southern Front. It was formed after a merger between the Hamza Division, the 1st Artillery Regiment and the Syria Revolutionaries Front – Southern Sector. Its main powerbase was in the north-western areas of Daraa province, with a presence in Quneitra and in the southern reaches of the Damascus Governorate (in West Ghouta). The First Army held an estimated 5,000-10,000 fighters in its ranks. The First Army was among several Southern Front groups to denounce the ideology of Al-Nusra and vowed to discontinue any cooperation. Halfway through the Southern Storm Battle for Daraa City the Army disbanded, with the SRF and 1st Artillery Regiment operating independently. Only the Hamza Division continues to use the “First Army” name and imagery alongside its own. It is unknown why the substituent units broke apart. Social Media: YouTube
FSA = Free Syrian Army
SRF = Syria Revolutionaries Front
SMC = Supreme Military Council
ISIS = Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Islamic State/Da’esh)
ATGM = Anti-tank guided missile
MOC = Military Operations Command
RCC = Revolutionary Command Council
Works Cited/Recommended Reading
- Heras, Nicholas A. “A Profile of Syria’s Strategic Dar’a Province.” Combating Terrorism Center. 30 June 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. <https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-profile-of-syrias-strategic-dara-province>.
- Heras, Nicholas A. “Muhammad Majid al-Khatib: A Rising Leader in the Free Syrian Army.” Militant Leadership Monitor. The Jamestown Foundation. 28 February 2014. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://mlm.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42039&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=539&cHash=2bd9a9d0221d650cde1b043739bb7602#.VU72wPlVikr>
- Legrand, Félix. “The Resilience of Moderate Syrian Rebels.” Arab Reform Initiative. 1 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014. <http://www.arab-reform.net/resilience-moderate-syrian-rebels>.
- Lund, Aron. “Does the “Southern Front” Exist?” Syria in Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55054&reloadFlag=1>.
- Lund, Aron. “The End of the Levant Front” Syria in Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 21 April 2015. 5 May 2015. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=59855>
- Lund, Aron. “The Levant Front: Can Aleppo’s Rebels Unite?” Syria in Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 26 December 2014. 5 May 2015. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=57605>
- Lund, Aron. “The Mujahideen Army of Aleppo.” Syria in Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55275>.
- White, Jeffrey. “Rebels Worth Supporting: Syria’s Harakat Hazm.” The Washington Institute. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. <http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/rebels-worth-supporting-syrias-harakat-hazm>.
- Winter, Lucas. “A Modern History of the Free Syrian Army in Daraa.” FMSO Leavensworth. Foreign Military Studies Officer, 1 June 2013. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. <http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Free-Syrian-Army-Daraa.pdf>.
- “9 FSA Factions in Possession of TOW Missiles, as Obama Mulls Greater Involvement in Syria.” Tahrir Souri. 9 May 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <http://tahrirsouri.com/2014/05/09/9-fsa-factions-in-possession-of-tow-missiles-as-obama-mulls-greater-involvement-in-syria/>.
- “Exclusive Interview: Former MIG Pilot Recounts Audacious Defection, Talks TOW Missiles.” Tahrir Souri. 6 June 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <http://tahrirsouri.com/2014/06/06/exclusive-interview-former-mig-pilot-recounts-audacious-defection-talks-tow-missiles/>.
- “Syria: Countrywide Conflict Report #4.” The Carter Center, 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/NationwideUpdate-Sept-18-2014.pdf>.
- “Syria: Countrywide Conflict Report #5.” The Carter Center, 28 February 2015. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/NationwideUpdate-Feb-28-2015.pdf>