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Syria: Size, Equipment, Command Structure and Organization
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Regular Armed Forces > Size, Equipment, Command Structure and Organization


By 1987, the Syrian armed forces were increasingly professional and well-equipped. The Syrian armed forces totaled 500,000 regulars and 340,000 reservists in 1985. These figures represented a tremendous expansion in the manpower, training, and equipment, achieved with considerable financial and military aid from the Arab states and the Soviet Union and several of its East European allies. By early 1987, the vast majority of Syrian military equipment was Soviet manufactured and the organization and military doctrine of the armed forces followed the Soviet model.

President Assad was commander in chief of the armed forces, retaining the rank of lieutenant general. Directly responsible to Assad was the flamboyant Deputy Premier and Defense Minister General Mustafa Tlas, who also held the title of deputy commander in chief of the armed forces and army. Although a Sunni Muslim, Tlas has been a close friend of Assad since they were deputed as officers to the Egyptian Army (1959-61). Tlas was jailed for his part in an abortive officers' coup in 1962-63 in cooperation with Assad and later helped bring Assad to power. A tank commander, he was appointed lieutenant general and, in March 1972, minister of defense. He received general staff training in Moscow at the Voroshilov Academy and advocates close ties with the Soviet Union and a hard line on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Vice president for military and national security affairs was the president's brother, the volatile Rifaat al Assad. As a result of political infighting over the issue of succession to Assad, Rifaat was living in temporary exile in France in early 1987. Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Armed Forces Lieutenant General Hikmat Shihabi was third in command. General Ali Aslan was deputy chief of the general staff. Commander of the ground forces was Major General Yusuf Bin Raghib Shakur. The air force retained its own commander, Major General Ibrahim Hassan. The navy commander was Rear Admiral Mustafa Tayara.

The chief of staff of the armed forces functions through the general staff, an administrative body that is divided into the usual branches, such as personnel, intelligence, training, and logistics. The general staff does not possess decision-making powers; these are largely confined to the commanders and chiefs of staff acting on behalf of the president. In 1970 a "political department" was established "to guide members of the armed forces ideologically and to instill in them loyalty toward the present regime."

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 120 of 138


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