The Syrian regime’s reliance on and co-option of locally formed militias since 2011 has transformed Syria’s security services into a vast collection of local and national armed auxiliaries supporting a core of standard military units. While many pro-regime armed groups formed naturally early on, this paper argues that the central state played a key role in both supporting and founding militias since the first months of the revolution, and then in growing, controlling, merging and disbanding these pseudo “non-state” armed groups in later years. This regime support, which was often exercised through individual officers, resulted in a symbiotic relationship between the security state and local strongmen within a web of patronage networks connected to illicit economies, international actors, and local politics. This report seeks to outline some of the methods of connection between the regime and its militias, recognizing that these relationships are fluid over time and multifaceted. Through the use of more than a dozen militia case studies, this report sheds some light on the origins and role of militias in Syria from the early war period to today.
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