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Syria: Russia Excludes Maher al-Assad’s Forces from Exercises

Maher al-Assad is seen by Russia as too close to Iran, according to al-Modon.
Syria: Russia Excludes Maher al-Assad’s Forces from Exercises

The forces of the Fourth Division of the Syrian regime army, led by Maher al-Assad, were absent from the military exercises carried out by Russian forces in Syria. They participated in the forces of the 25-Special Task Force, headed by Colonel Suhail al-Hassan — known as al-Nimr (the tiger).

On Saturday, the Syrian regime’s defense ministry aired a video showing new exercises supervised by Russian officers, including the commander of Russian forces in Syria, with the participation of the defence minister in the Syrian regime’s government. The exercises followed a maneuver a few days ago, involving aircraft belonging to the regime and its Russian ally.

“Under the guidance of President Bashar al-Assad, Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas made a field visit to one of our armed forces regiments; he attended a live-fire training session,” the ministry said in a statement. The training was attended by the commander of Russian forces operating in Syria and accompanied by several Russian officers. The statement said that the sessions included various combat scenarios in mountainous and urban settings.

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Although the statement did not release the location or name of the military group that carried out the training session, it was revealed that Suhail al-Hassan (aka al-Nimr) of the 25-Special Task Force oversaw the training. Pages supporting al-Nimr and his group revealed that the training’s location was in the Hama countryside in northern Syria.

Maher al-Assad’s Fourth Division forces did not appear in the photographs, being absent from the official and media coverage in contrast with Hassan’s frequent appearances at exercises and training operations alongside official figures affiliated with the Syrian Ministry of Defense — the body to which both groups are supposed to answer.

Syrian military analyst Brig. Gen. Ahmed Rahal said that it is “normal” to witness the emergence of Hassan and the absence of the Assad Fourth Division from maneuvers in which Russian officers and official figures from the Defense Ministry are present. “The 4th Division is directly commanded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and there is no Russian authority over it,” said Rahal.

Rahal told Al-Modon that al-Nimr’s forces “were formed by Russia mainly to be its Syrian military wing and oppose the Iranian wing, the Fourth Division.” He considered that the appearance of al-Nimr and his group alongside the defense minister during the recent exercise “does not mean that Nimr receives his orders from the minister or from Bashar al-Assad”, and that he “executes orders issued only by close associates.”

No clash between the two teams

Military analyst Brig. Gen. Abdullah al-Assaad ruled out a military clash between the two divisions. He said Iran and Russia are allies, each with its groups deployed on Syrian territory. He added that “the reference point for the Fourth Division is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council (IRGC),” while “the reference point for the 25th Division is Russia.”

“The decision-making of the two groups does not fall to the Ministry of Defense. Hassan is in direct contact with the Hmeimim base, and Maher al-Assad has direct contact with the IRGC in Tehran,” al-Assad told Al-Modon.

“Hassan’s group cannot be a spearhead in a future confrontation with the Fourth Division,” Rahal said, referring to “Russian-Iranian relations and high coordination between them.” He noted that those relations are at their strongest today.

Rahal said there are many signs of high coordination and a strong alliance between Moscow and Tehran, most notably “recent withdrawals from some locations where Russian forces were stationed in locations across southern and northern Syria.” Rahal also noted “the strong tone that has recently emerged from Iran in denouncing Israeli raids on Damascus, which Iran has translated into targeting Israeli aircraft with air defence missiles many times.”


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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