The Syrian Arab Armed Forces (Arabic: القوات المسلحة العربية السورية) are the military forces of the Syrian Arab Republic. They consist of the Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air Force, Syrian Arab Air Defense Force, and several paramilitary forces, such as the National Defence Force. According to the Syrian constitution, the President of Syria is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The military is a conscripted force; males serve in the military upon reaching the age of 18, but they are exempted from service if they don't have another brother who can take care of their parents. Since the Syrian Civil War, the enlisted members of the Syrian military have dropped by over half from a pre-civil war figure of 325,000 to 150,000 soldiers in the army in December 2014, due to casualties, desertions and draft dodging, reaching between 178,000 and 220,000 soldiers in the army, in addition to 80,000 to 100,000 irregular forces.
Before the start of the Syrian Civil War, the obligatory military service period was being decreased over time. In 2005, it was reduced from two and a half years to two years, in 2008 to 21 months and in 2011 to a year and a half. Since the Syrian Civil War the Syrian government has reportedly engaged in arrest campaigns and enacted new regulations, with citizens who have completed mandatory conscription being called up for reserve duty.
The French Mandate volunteer force, which would later become the Syrian army, was established in 1920 with the threat of Syrian−Arab nationalism in mind. Although the unit's officers were originally all French, it was, in effect, the first indigenous modern Syrian army. In 1925 this force was expanded and designated the Special Troops of the Levant (Troupes Spéciales du Levant). In 1941, during World War II, the Army of the Levant participated in a futile resistance to the British and Free French invasion that ousted the Vichy French from Syria during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. After the Allied takeover, the army came under the control of the Free French and was designated the Levantine Forces (Troupes du Levant). French Mandate authorities maintained a gendarmerie to police Syria's vast rural areas. This paramilitary force was used to combat criminals and political foes of the Mandate government. As with the Levantine Special Troops, French officers held the top posts, but as Syrian independence approached, the ranks below major were gradually filled by Syrian officers who had graduated from the Homs Military Academy, which had been established by the French during the 1930s. In 1938 the Troupes Spéciales numbered around 10,000 men and 306 officers (of whom 88 were French, mainly in the higher ranks). A majority of the Syrian troops were of rural background and minority ethnic origin, mainly Alawis, Druzes, Kurds and Circassians. By the end of 1945 the army numbered about 5,000 and the gendarmerie some 3,500. In April 1946 the last French officers were forced to leave Syria due to sustained resistance offensives; the Levantine Forces then became the regular armed forces of the newly independent state and grew rapidly to about 12,000 by the time of the 1948 Arab−Israeli War, the first of four Arab−Israeli wars between 1948-86.
The Syrian Armed Forces fought in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War (against Israel) and were involved in a number of military coups. Between 1948-67 a series of coups destroyed the stability of the government and any remaining professionalism within the armed forces. In March 1949 the chief of staff, Gen. Husni al-Za'im, installed himself as president. Two more military dictators followed by December 1949. Gen. Adib Shishakli then held power until deposed in the 1954 Syrian coup d'etat. Further coups followed, each attended by a purge of the officer corps to remove supporters of the losers from the force.
In 1963 the Military Committee of the Syrian Regional Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party spent most of its time planning to take power through a conventional military coup. From the very beginning the Military Committee knew it had to capture al-Kiswah and Qatana--two military camps--seize control of the 70th Armored Brigade at al-Kiswah, the Military Academy in the city of Homs and the Damascus radio station. While the conspirators of the Military Committee were all young, their aim was not out of reach; the sitting regime had been slowly disintegrating and the traditional elite had lost effective political power over the country. A small group of military officers, including Hafez al-Assad, seized control in the March 1963 Syrian coup d'etat. Following the coup, Gen. Amin al-Hafiz discharged many ranking Sunni officers, thereby, Stratfor says, "providing openings for hundreds of Alawites to fill top-tier military positions during the 1963-1965 period on the grounds of being opposed to Arab unity. This measure tipped the balance in favor of Alawite officers who staged a coup in 1966 and for the first time placed Damascus in the hands of the Alawites."
The Armed Forces were involved in the 1967 Six-Day War (against Israel). Since 1967 most of the Golan Heights territory of southwestern Syria has been under Israeli occupation. They then fought in the late 1960s War of Attrition (against Israel) and the 1970 Black September invasion of Jordan. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973 the Syrian Army launched an attack to liberate the occupied Golan Heights that was only narrowly repulsed with the help of the US. Since 1973 the cease-fire line has been respected by both sides, with very few incidents until the Syrian uprising of 2011 began.