Russia Builds a Syrian Spetsnaz, Is Taking over Iran’s Shiite Militias

The Americans in Syria have noted that Russia’s “Syrian Express” is running again. They are quoted by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources as referring to the massive influx of Russian military forces flowing into Syria in recent days by air and sea.
The airlift of 2,000 Russian mercenaries was first revealed on Wednesday, Aug. 2, by debkafile.
Their arrival raised to 5,000 troops the number of combatants hired for Syria from the semi-clandestine Russian Wagner Group security firm.
All those combatants served at one time in elite units of the Russian ground, air or naval forces. Wagner is basically modeled on the American Blackwater security contractor, renamed Academi.
The Russian constitution prohibits hiring soldiers of fortune for the country’s extraterritorial conflicts. However, President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu decided to enlist Wagner all the same to avoid committing regular Russian army ground or armored troops to the Syrian battlefield.
The Russians are running a second bustling corridor to Syria by sea.
The ships sailing from the Black Sea port of Novorfossiysk to Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast have their holds packed tight with tanks, heavy artillery, missiles, anti-tank weapons and electronic warfare equipment. This cargo is destined for the Syrian armys 5th Assault Corps, which the Russians are in the process of building up from a volunteer legion into the largest and most effective unit in Bashar Assad’s armed forces.
It is also designed to bring together under one roof all the different Shiite militias which Iran imported to fight on Syria’s warfronts on behalf of the Syrian government.
The Russian officers and instructors working on this task were hired from the Wagner Group.
Moscow’s plans for the 5th Corps have two objectives:
1. Russia is in the process of improving and streamlining Syria’s security machine for the post-war period. A united command structure is being put in place to administer, control and absorb the assorted armed groups which support the Assad regime. The process will also formalize the positions pro-government groups will hold inside the Syrian military and security services after the civil conflict is over.
2. Moscow continues to edge Tehran out of its paramount position in Damascus and downgrade its military role in Syria. This is being achieved by integrating into the remodeled 5th Corps the foreign militias Iran brought over from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight for Assad under Iranian command. Moscow has even put out feelers to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah, to join.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources note that Tehran is getting uptight over Moscow’s game-changing maneuver for seizing control of the 5th Corps and the Shiite militias. Relations with Moscow are fast trending downward.
The Trump administration is watching this game play out from the sidelines, but sees no reason to interfere in the widening rift between Russia and Iran.
The formation of the 5th Assault Corps was first unveiled by the Syrian army in November, 2016, as an elite force of volunteers sponsored by Russia and Iran. It has meanwhile evolved into a substantial body of more than 20,000 troops, with headquarters in the western province of Latakia and bases scattered through Hama and Palmyra.
Its top commanders, who have never been identified, are believed to be working at present with a large number of Russian military advisers, drawn from Wagner, who have also been attached to the local units.
The rank and file still consists of mostly volunteer groups, who fought as separate militias, but are now being slapped together under a single command. Among them are the Assad Shield, Mahardeh Forces and the Martyrdom or Victory Groups. The Corps’ backbone has three sections:
The ISIS Hunters
They are mostly volunteers from the rural Homs and Palmyra whose relatives were murdered by ISIS. This group is exceptional in that its members are Russian-trained and armed for special operations combat.
Tribal Forces
They are volunteers from the tribes of Deir Ez-Zour, Raqqah and Hasakah.
Ba’ath Brigades
This militia was formed by members of Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party.
Wagner Group specialists are busy beating these assorted groups together with the Shiite militias into a cohesive elite force with special operations capabilities – a kind of Syrian Spetsnaz.

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