Russia opposes “lawless”
pro-Assad militias: report

As-Safir said that the actions of NDF militias have weakened the authority of the Syrian government.

NDF militiamen. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

BEIRUT – Amid its growing military buildup in Syria, Russia has proposed the axing of the pro-Assad National Defense Force militias which have come under scrutiny for their lawless actions, according to a pro-Damascus newspaper.


Lebanese daily As-Safir reported Monday that the “Russians believe the NDF experiment has failed to stand up to the armed groups and that it has weakened the authority of the Syrian state and the Syrian army.”


Citing “corroborative information,” the paper went on to say that Moscow wants to “strengthen the Syrian state’s role through a proposal to reduce the role of the NDF and popular committees, and form a fourth legion of the Syrian Army.”


According to As-Safir, the new fourth legion would bring NDF units under its command “and re-habilitate 75,000 fighters.”


“It would raise the army’s capability to renew its forces and reduce disorder in the chain of command.”


Originally formed in late 2012, the NDF acts as an auxiliary force for the Syrian army, assisting the regular regime forces in their battles against rebels.


However, NDF units throughout regime controlled areas have come under increasing criticism from local residents, who accuse the militia forces of acting like criminal gangs under the cover of government protection.


Pro-government militias in Tartous have clashed intermittently with regime security forces while facing accusations of being behind kidnappings and car thefts in a wanton crime spree.


Meanwhile, an NDF militia reportedly fought regime troops in Homs in mid-April, while reports emerged in late September that a militia force fought local security in the center of Hama.


Regime media slams pro-government militias


A September 22 segment on Syria’s semi-official Sama TV broached the controversial topic, with the host Nizar Alfarra blasting the “the phenomenon of lawlessness… caused by a collection of people who, unfortunately, are exploiting the state’s name.”


He further said that NDF militias in the Alawite-populated region stretching from the coastal city of Tartous to the rural villages west of Hama, have found that “robbing, stealing, pilfering and all [other] sinful actions can yield more money” than “defending the homeland, which may not produce a material return.”


“There is a genuine complaint about gangs [that] rob and steal, [and] have become completely uncontrollable in that area.”


“Who has an interest in giving Syrian citizens the feeling that their state’s… security apparatuses are weak… and leave criminals whose names and activities are known… to do as they please?” Alfarra asked.


The program’s guest, Syria Home News editor-in-chief Haytham Mohammad called for concrete regime action against the rogue militias.


“We have paid a big price but we will pay a higher and higher price if this phenomenon does not end and if these [criminals] are not arrested and brought to justice.”


Tartous lawlessness


In the latest incident to raise the ire of residents of pro-Assad areas, a local NDF unit in the Tartous town of Dreikish attacked police officers on September 21, leaving two dead.


Residents of Dreikish blasted the local NDF militia and called for the regime to strike it with an “iron fist.”


“There is a large group of murderous criminals who have banded together in a militia under the leadership of the criminal Ahmad Houry,” read a post late Monday on the pro-regime Al-Dreikish Facebook page.


“They gathered all the degenerates… and because the state did not do its duty and bury them they ran rampant and set themselves up as a de-facto state,” the bitter post added.


A subsequent post on the page accused Houry’s militia of operating “in cooperation with the governor of Tartous, and those above him too.”


The Dreikish incident comes on the heels of a long series of incidents of local pro-regime militias taking the law into their own hands amid lawlessness in the Tartous region.


On June 22, members of a local National Defense Force militia opened fire on residents of the Tartous town of Safita, which is populated by a nearly equal mix of Greek Orthodox and Alawites approximately 20 kilometers southeast of Tartous.


A pro-regime Facebook page covering news in the town roundly condemned the incident and called for a government crackdown.


“We call on the competent authorities to put an end to this chaos which is increasing day after day,” a post on the pro-regime Safita News Network read.

NDF militiamen on patrol. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

It would raise the army’s capability to renew its forces and reduce disorder in the chain of command.