What are the Syrian Army “Tiger Forces?”


I have looked at what sources I could find with regard to the Syrian Army's "Tiger Forces."

this organization is described in the wiki as a division.  This can mean anything in the Middle East.  The fanciful description of various formations as divisions does not give you any real idea of the size of a group.  It is described as directly subordinated to the Syrian Army chief of staff as you would expect with regard to an outfit that is used as  national level "fire brigade" maneuver reserve.

MG Hassan, the commander of this "division" was an air force intelligence officer for most of his career and became a ground forces commander when asked in 2013 to create this unit.  Remarkable.  He declined promotion from colonel to brigadier general a year or so ago in order to remain with his men.  It is a common practice in armies to promote an officer and then transfer him to a larger job.  The Syrian government's response to his refusal was to promote him to major general and allow him to stay with the force he had created.  This too is remarkable.

The Tiger Forces have as organic assets something called the Cheetah Forces (Team 3 and Team 6) and associated militia forces that work with the division on a regular basis.  All of this seems armor heavy.

This is a unit in the process of becoming a legend in its own time.

I would like to make up an Order of Battle for the Tiger Forces.  Any ideas?  pl



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37 Responses to What are the Syrian Army “Tiger Forces?”

  1. Fred says:

    “He declined promotion from colonel to brigadier general a year or so ago in order to remain with his men.”
    This sure explains why the SAA and allies are winning.

  2. MartinJ says:

    Most of the media Arabic references to the Tiger Forces refer to them as a Liwa – a brigade, rather than a division.
    There are also some references to the Cheetah Forces (Al-Fuhud) fighting alongside the Tiger Forces.
    The Arabic Wiki entry on the Battle of al-Ghab Plain in July 2015 places the Tiger Forces on a level with other brigades. It lists the following Syrian government army units as constituents in that battle:
    87 Brigade
    155 Brigade
    Tiger Forces
    Force 54 Special Forces
    106 Brigade Republican Guard
    40 Mechanised Brigade (Tanks)
    Desert Hawks
    Cheetah Forces
    That gives me the impression that the Tigers are a brigade at best.
    If that is the case then it will be hard IMO to get any further with an order of battle for the Tiger Forces. Also, I suspect that within each of these “brigades” above they are strengthened and given a stiff backbone with the insertion of Iranian and Hezbullah commanders and fighters.
    I get the idea that MG Hassan is a PR campaign to give heart and hope to the pro-government population and to lift the morale of the Syrians in the army.

  3. turcopolier says:

    “I suspect that within each of these “brigades” above they are strengthened and given a stiff backbone with the insertion of Iranian and Hizbullah commanders and fighters.” Do you have any basis for your suspicion? I see lots of references to the Iranians and Hizbullah being employed as separate units often brigaded with Syrian units. I don’t see evidence of Iranian and Hizbullah commanders or fillers in SAA units pl

  4. b says:

    To my best knowledge the Iranians or Hizbullah do not command and are not deeply involved in Syrian regular forces. There are Iranian (IRGC) leaders with some external forces (Afghans, Iraqi). There are advisers and trainers for the half-civilian Self Defense Forces (SDF). Russians are only deployed where there is special Russian technology involved. All are involved in the central command for coordination and battle planning.
    The Tigers are a brigade sized formation with sometimes additional attachments from the SDF or other troops. I think they are overused. After Kuweiris they should have had more rest. Instead they went nearly straight to Palmyra.

  5. turcopolier says:

    I agree that they are overused. pl

  6. Jose says:

    Republican Guards? Maybe they get the best equipment, training, etc.

  7. turcopolier says:

    They are not of the Republican Guard. I would think that they probably have a high priority for new equipment. Why not? pl

  8. Gabriel says:

    Col Lang and SST readers,
    I have been trying to put together an interactive visualization of the last months of Syrian war, which mean that, whether I liked to or not, I had to deal with the problem of exactly what the Tiger Forces are. What little I have found so far:
    * “Team 3” and “Team 6” appear to be the Tiger Forces’ two maneuver units, with the capability of being deployed independently to different parts of the front (see https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/tiger-forces-deploy-to-southeast-aleppo-amid-isil-assault-on-khanasser/). Each seems to consist of a battalion (regiment?) of mechanized infantry with an attached tank company (battalion?).
    * The reporting sometimes seems to hint at sub-units such as “Cheetah Forces of the Tiger Force”–I have not found these to be meaningful so far.
    * As far as I can tell, they do *not* have attached associated militia assets on a permanent basis. The NDF/SSNP/Kataeb al Baath units they are reported as operating with appear usually to be ones that were already active locally. Your description above of them as a “fire brigade” fits exactly.
    * Ditto Hezbollah or IRGC units. They have fought alongside Hezbollah in the the Kuweires area, but do not appear to have even the informal attachment you see between the 4th Mechanized Division and Hezbollah infantry to the SW of Aleppo.
    * The Tiger Forces are independent of the other two elite (i.e., capable of offensive operations) organizations of the regime, the Republican Guard and the 4th Mechanized Division.
    * Much more obscure is the question of what links if any they have may have with the units of the 14th and 15th Special Forces divisions that appear on the wiki link Col Lang attached above. This article (http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/colonel-suheil-al-hassan-tiger-forces/) would suggest that the Tiger Forces were created “out of” Special Forces personnel, but are now an autonomous organization. (Incidentally, I have not seen reports of SAA Special Forces units operating above battalion, so it may be that a large proportion of its offensive capability was simply folded into the Tiger Forces).
    I hope the above has been minimally helpful, at least establishing a few things the Tiger Forces are not. Below I include some links that have helped me trying to understand the current orbat and deployment of the SAA.
    https://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/3t2oeh/location_and_structure_of_elite_syrian_units/ [NB, regular army brigade numbers should be taken with caution unless one sees them mentioned repeatedly in battlefield reports–the existence/parent-unit of some are questionable.]
    [Sunni units in 4th Mechanized brigades]: https://twitter.com/leithfadel/status/628592248628867072
    [loose pairing between 4th Mechanized and Hezbollah infantry] https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/hezbollah-syrian-army-advance-to-abu-rayal-in-southern-aleppo-as-more-iraqi-paramilitary-arrive/
    [SSNP militia] http://shellshocked-blog.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-rise-of-ssnp-militia-sign-of.html
    [old, but still useful on SAA units in Deir Ezzor, including Druze 104th Brigade brigade of Republican Guard] http://spioenkop.blogspot.com/2014/12/battlefront-syria-deir-ez-zor.html

  9. turcopolier says:

    Any idea what they do for indirect fire support, i.e., artillery? pl

  10. charly says:

    I understood that Team 6 is Cheetah force

  11. bth says:

    Is the geographic disposition of the Tiger Forces an indicator of the priority SAA gives to a particular front?

  12. Gabriel says:

    I’m afraid that, organizationally, that’s a good question for the entirety of the current pro-government forces.
    My *impression* is that (with the possible exception of the 4th Mechanized Division) none of the first-line Syrian units have indirect fire assets heavier than what would be organic for mechanized units of their size. However, first-line units in some areas of the front clearly have powerful indirect fire support (see e.g. fairly recent clip from fighting near Thermal Plant East of Aleppo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgDn8SLrVLk) and these assets are presumably made up equal/older versions of Russian types in theater (see here, https://rusi.org/publication/rusi-defence-systems/detailing-russian-forces-syria for weapon types), but so far I have not been able to find any information about how they are organized (or even which nationality is firing what).
    All I can add is that only first-line Syrian units seem to have access (or simple liaison capability) to these assets. Images and reports from areas where Nusra/ISIS forces staged successful counterattacks against militia forces (both NDF and Iraqi Shia) suggest that these last have very weak heavy weapons/above support, even in areas of the front we know such assets are present (eg SW Aleppo, where in November ground-holding militias were pushed back while 4th Mech was re-equipping with T-90s).

  13. Pat Lang,
    You beat me to that question. Also, does Gabriel or anyone know if the SAA has self-propelled arty with a command relationship to its mobile units?

  14. Nightsticker says:

    Col Lang,
    Are opposition units/personnel permitted to surrender on the battlefield
    in this war? Does the R+6 take prisoners? I have read about negotiated
    truces/hudnas and about offers of amnesty to entire villages. I have
    not seen what I consider to be “normal” casualty statistics which
    would include KIAs, more WIAs and at least some POWs.Is it true that
    “jihadis” just don’t surrender; they fight to the death?
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  15. Edward says:

    Hassan sounds like he has a similar background to Assad’s father. Didn’t he start out life as an air force officer?

  16. The Porkchop Express says:

    Here is a video (produced by the Russians) that highlights the Suqur al Sahara brigades. May be of some utility? Given its similar mission in make up to the Tigers. I found their “aviation specialists” using commercial drones as part of the unit particularly ingenious.

  17. Gabriel says:

    I’ve toyed with that idea, with “Team 3” (the one that got redeployed to SE Aleppo) being the “Panther Forces” that one also sometimes sees mentioned. Might well be true–I’d be delighted to know if anyone has more information.

  18. Gabriel says:

    My guess is no, outside of Aleppo. (nb–my data collection complete for whole of Syria only till 1/1, cd have become clearer later). One of the two sub-units keeps popping up alternately in the hills north of Palmyra (http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.626428&lon=38.288727&z=12&m=b) and near the that section of the Itrhiyah-Khanasser road that ISIS keeps cutting (v roughly here, http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.576358&lon=37.654953&z=11&m=b), but as far as I’ve seen it’s been fire-brigade duties, restoring the front after ISIS (it’s usually ISIS) surprises militia units out of potentially critical locations.
    More generally, and this is a very uneducated guess that results simply from having read hundreds of wire reports over the past months, I have a *suspicion* that reports about pushes to capture Palmyra or push from NE Hama straight to Raqqah are feints/maskirovka meant to draw attention away from Aleppo and Lattakia. I just notice a pattern of reports of elite units (but small ones) being deployed in those areas (a unit of Russian Marines was reported as being in command of a force in NE Hama), with the implication that something’s brewing there, and in the end it’s always some important chunk of Aleppo that ends up being the real target.
    For example, you might remember Palmyra and or a push to Tabaqah/Raqqah cropping in the news in the past month or so, but, following this report (https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/isis-abandons-hope-east-aleppo-syrian-army-captures-3-villages/) posted yesterday, it seems to me that the next actual anti-ISIS move might be a push northward from roughly here (http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.820319&lon=37.612038&z=12&m=b&permpoly=15652880) to here http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=36.097106&lon=37.939224&z=12&m=b&permpoly=15652880). I say “seems” purely because it has more of a “cauldron” flavor than the other two directions, with units East of Kuweires able to support that push. But I’ll stop my uneducated guessing there.

  19. Gabriel says:

    William Fitzgerald,
    Here’s where old brigade designations can start to drive you insane. If you look at the OOB Col Lang posted above, you’ll see that the 154th brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division (the one that’s been active in SW Aleppo with Hezbollah infantry) is listed in 2011 as a self-propelled artillery. Now, however, it’s equipped with T-90s (at least if this is the armor bde we’ve been seeing in the clips of the fighting), so…
    I can’t imagine the 4th Mechanized doesn’t have some very substantial self-propelled artillery, but your guess about what/crewed-by-whom is as good as mine. My last data for Russian shipments from November, so anything you can get after that could supply a clue (to the “what”, at least).

  20. elaine says:

    What are those yellow ribbons some of the soldiers wear on their shoulders for?

  21. William Fitzgerald,
    I think you’re asking if these units have organic artillery. I haven’t seen any evidence of this. Perhaps they will move in that direction as the Russians have done to the local forces in Novorossiya. Those units are combined arms with a heavier slice of indirect fire support than what I remember from the US Army. Right now, I see a modern command and communications set up in these kind of Syrian units that can take advantage of intelligence and supporting fires, including air support. The ability to make full use of attached and supporting assets is more important than having organic assets.

  22. I notice the commander refers to troops of twenty or so men. That may be the basic building block of this unit. The ability to infiltrate an enemy controlled area, strike and return is IMO an advanced light infantry task. Again, the command, control, intelligence capabilities are impressive.

  23. turcopolier says:

    You do things like the yellow ribbons to be able to recognize each other when in the presence of an enemy who do not look very different. pl

  24. Mark Pyruz says:

    Colonel, another observer from Austria has been tracking SyAA for decades and is convinced the SyAA exists in name only. When you read in Al-Masdar News of this or that SyAA division, in reality these units are more correctly NDF using SyAA divisional HQs, and are being referred to by their HQ designations. That is to say, in actual unit composition, there is little actual relevance between units identified on the pre-conflict ORBAT and those by the same name currently engaged in the war.
    Of course, this is what one would expect from a fighting force laden with multiple cycles of replacements over the course of a lengthy, attritional conflict.

  25. turcopolier says:

    Mark Pyruz
    I have read his stuff and think he is a bogus crank. pl

  26. The Porkchop Express says:

    Indeed. I’m also fairly certain the gentlemen from the video in black are Hezbollah, not 100% certain, but they certainly look the type. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an intricate color coded system for the R6 group members for easy identification.

  27. Fred says:

    ” I see lots of references to the Iranians and Hizbullah being employed as separate units often brigaded with Syrian units.”
    Isn’t this a traditional method of employing better trained&equipped units with more green units to both stiffen the combined force and give the green troops an example to model themselves after while also giving the more experienced units a role to live up to as the “best” in the field? Somewhat analogous to the regular army artillery units in the civil war and the state batteries they were with?

  28. Ante says:

    They’re a unit set up with help from Iran for fighting in the Desert. Not similar in makeup or mission to the Tiger forces.

  29. 505th PIR says:

    Committed, Learned Soldiers, who do not want to die.

  30. bth says:

    Thanks Gabriel. Very informative string of posts.
    Is the maskirovka generally with official statements or on more informal and random posts from twitter and youtube? And do you think the maskirovka posts are actively supported with trolling posts or are they just sort of put out there for the inquiring mind?
    The reason I ask is I’m trying to refine the filtering process with open source information. So I’m just curious on the nuances that you are noticing. For example there are ways of detecting a western government news plant and the same for a Russian one, but I hadn’t seen it with regard to the disposition of R+6 forces in Syria.

  31. turcopolier says:

    A use of media to distract and misdirect the media would be a legitimate act of war IMO. pl

  32. bth says:

    All the ribbons were on the left shoulder. So probably more than just the color. Perhaps the position changes by day.

  33. bth says:

    Didn’t Assad’s dad put down rebellions with massive artillery barrages? Maybe current Syrian forces are simply low on artillery ammunition. The attrition on material and supplies from multiple years of civil war must be terrific.

  34. bth says:

    Yes acknowledged. But what’s happening now with the internet and the ability to track story lines in time as they are picked up and shared by chosen outlets (depending on the source/sponsor), it is possible to make an educated guess as to what the official line of misdirection is and its probable source of origin. Russians, Saudis, Americans, Israelis, Brits each have their own ‘rhythm’ to disinformation for lack of a better word. Perhaps a future thread discussion.

  35. turcopolier says:

    “Brigading” in the way you speak of has been a common practice since the end of the Middle Ages. pl

  36. aleksandar says:

    Not exactly about Tiger Force but…
    The Syrian Special forces were trained by the Egyptian army in the 60s, according to a program of British commando squads intended for the servicemen of the units of light infantry which were patented as parachutists. SAA had at the beginning of the civil war six battalions independent from Special forces and another parachutists’ battalion, in this particular case the 104th Brigade of the Republican Guard.
    In May, 2014, a group of commando squad called the ” Protective Lions ” is created, subordinated to the 4th mechanized Division operating in the North of Syria. At the beginning of the war,equipment of units of the Syrian Special forces was as ineffective as that of the SAA, and the Syrian commando squads did not have experience anymore of the urban, anti-insurrectionary fight, as in Beirut in 1982. At that time, the units of Syrian commando squads were equipped with antitank grenade launcher RPG-7, with systems of antitank missiles 9K111 Fagot and Milan 1, which had caused enormous devastation to Israeli armored vehicles.
    Situation improved with the arrival in Syria of Iranian trainers of the Strength Al-Quds ( well equipped and well trained) and of fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah having a big experience of urban war. Let us call back that the Iranian Special forces were created and formed by their United States equivalent and British SBU in the time of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
    Commando squads Lebanese CQB and FIBUA of the Hezbollah equipped with modern antitank missiles (9M113 Konkurs, 9M131 Half-blood M, 9M133 Kornet) and with grenade launcher antitanks (RPG 7V, RPG-29) acquired a robust experience of fight in asymmetric tactics and urban guerrilla warfare in 2006, against the tanks Merkava of the Israeli army. They worked out new extremely effective antitank technics of fight.
    Everything was analyzed and rewritten on the basis of clear modus operandi and rules, following the arrival of the Russian Spetsnaz instructors. Although Iran invested a lot of money in equipments of Special forces, they were not of last generation, as those of the Russians. Recent photos of Syrian Special forces present them equipped exactly as the Russians, in camouflage dress fireproofed MultiCam type, ballistic helmet FAST Ops-Core, with system optoélectronic integrated, devices of night-vision, cowl, bulletproof vest and quality boots, rifles with a British sighting glasses Accuracy AWM (with silencer) or AK-74M equipped with a sighting glasses with a rangefinder laser Alpha 7115 and an automatic grenade launcher AGS-30, machine gun Pecheneg and so on.
    Progress in the training and the equipment of the Syrian commando squads with modern weapons was noted in one recent operation, the recovery of the road Khanasser-Ithriyah.
    Fights in urban areas are unthinkable without numerous snipers, formed and equipped with modern armaments. At the beginning of the war, in the absence of points of observation on buildings and snipers, authors of suicide attack could choose targets and blow up, or enter with cars inside the control points of the Syrian Arabic army. The Syrian Arabic army had few snipers and have old models of rifles with sighting glasses: Dragunov and DMR (a Chinese de Norinco, copied from former United States M-14).
    Later, Iranians equipped the SAA of a local copy of Austrian rifle with sighting glasses Steyr HS.50, Russians supplying the modern rifle with sighting glasses Orsis T-5000 (7,62 mm) and the machine gun with sighting glasses KSVK (12,7 mm). On the initiative of the Iranians and the Russians, a sniper’s school was created for the SAA, with Lebanese (Hezbollah), Iranian and Russian instructors The Russian snipers are the best to the world, thanks to their weapons, their camouflage, and their training centers. The keywords for the Syrian snipers will have to be ” make you invisible and to see without being seen. ”

  37. turcopolier says:

    “Special Forces” means a lot of things to various people in various countries. In the ME “Special Forces” generally connotes commandos or light volunteer forces of some kinds. The word is Arabic is “Sa’aga.” It doesn’t mean anything like our Green Berets (US Army Special Forces.) There really isn’t anything like that anywhere else. Most units called special forces in the world are generally SWAT team style commandos or light infantry units like our Ranger Regiment. In Syria these forces so designated appear to me to be like the Ranger Regiment reinforced with armor. pl

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