The Syrian Army, depleted from draft dodgers and deserters, is increasingly reliant on pro-regime militias. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region--Young Syrian men have been dodging the country’s draft and deserting the army to avoid fighting in the war which has destroyed their country over the course of the last five years. Many are seeking refuge in Syria’s neighbouring countries and Europe.
Before the war started the army was estimated to number approximately 300,000 soldiers. Presently less than half that number makes up the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that approximately 80,000 Syrian soldiers have been killed in the war to date. Damascus does not release statistics on how many of its soldiers have been killed or wounded in combat.
A Syrian military source told Reuters that desertion is not a big issue and that it is a “phenomenon found in all armies.”
“For wartime, it’s a normal number,” the source claimed.
Kheder Khaddour of the Carnegie Middle East Center believes the Syrian Army’s manpower has been drastically reduced over the course of this war. “If it was 300,000 in the army, now it’s less than half and probably less than that, that seems like a large number,” he said.
Before the war 18-year old Syrian men were drafted for a two year stint in the military. Now many are drafted for longer than that as the war drags on. Syrians caught dodging the draft can be denied employment in the state sector and can face up to 15 years in prison.
Alternatively more well off Syrians can pay an $8,000 fee to avoid mandatory service altogether. It is a price few young Syrians can afford.
Given the reduction in the number of soldiers fighting in the SAA – through a combination of battlefield deaths, defections and desertions – the regime has been relying more heavily on pro-regime militias.