Assad creates new ‘paramilitary’ force

Assad creates new ‘paramilitary’ force

BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
Assad creates new ‘paramilitary’ force

A rebel fighter runs across a street in Haresta neighborhood of Damascus. An NGO claimed that the Syrian regime has created a paramilitary force. REUTERS photo

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has put together a new paramilitary force of men and women, some trained by key ally Iran, to fight what is now becoming a guerrilla war, a watchdog said yesterday.

The force, dubbed the National Defense Army, gathers together existing popular committees of pro-regime civilian fighters under a new, better-trained and armed hierarchy, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The popular committees were originally formed to protect pro-regime neighborhoods from rebels.

“The (regular) army is not trained to fight a guerrilla war, so the regime has resorted to creating the National Defense Army,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Most of the new fighters are members or supporters of the ruling Baath party, said Abdel Rahman. “They include men and women, and members of all the sects.”

‘Not connected to shabiha’

The new force is not connected to the pro-regime shabiha militia, which the army and security forces have deployed ever since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt to help it suppress dissent across the country.

Members of the paramilitary force, like the popular committees before, will focus on fighting in their own neighborhoods.

Moscow’s Russia Today reported last week on its website that the new National Defense Army was being set up to “defend districts against gunmen.”