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Syria: Development of the Syrian Military
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Syria and the Middle East Conflict > Development of the Syrian Military


The Mandate volunteer force formed in 1920 was established 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 the unit was designated the Levantine Special Forces (Troupes Sp├ęciales du Levant). In 1941, the force participated in a futile resistance to the British and Free French invasion that ousted the Vichy French from Syria. 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 Forces, 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 Military Academy at Homs, which had been established by the French during the 1930s. In 1938 the Troupes Sp├ęciales 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).

The air force was formed in 1948 on the graduation of the first class of Syrian pilots from British flight schools. Two years later, with the procurement of a few naval craft from France, a small navy was established, using army personnel who had been sent to French academies for naval training.

French Mandate authorities were thus responsible for the initial development of Syria's armed forces, but by the mid1940s, for a variety of reasons, Syrians had developed a profound distrust of the French in particular and Western Europeans in general. The growth of pan-Arabism throughout much of the Arab world, including Syria, during the interwar years paralleled the feelings of anti-Westernism that were growing in the region.

Data as of April 1987

Last Updated: April 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Syria was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Syria Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 109 of 138


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