Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2014

Assad's Indispensable Foreign Legions

Jeffrey White

January 2014

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy


Since 2012, the Syrian regime has drawn from its allies to create a force of foreign combatants that have become essential to its survival. The presence of these fighters is a major factor in the conflict and will have significant influence on the eventual military or political solution. At this point, President Bashar al-Assad probably cannot decide the regime's course for the war on his own -- like Rome inviting the barbarian tribes to defend its gates, he has effectively mortgaged his independence to his Iranian, Hezbollah, and Iraqi allies, and their withdrawal would likely turn the war back against the regime. According to Assad's narrative, the Syrian Arab Army is winning the fight against the rebels, but it is the foreign legions that have made such claims possible.