Syria to demobilize tens of thousands of reservists: Defense official

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Syria plans the phased demobilization of tens of thousands of reservists from next month, a defense ministry official said, as fighting in the civil war has wound down in recent years.

“Tens of thousands will be demobilized by the end of the current year, and the same next year, while maintaining combat readiness and acting in the interests of the people,” Major General Ahmed Sleiman told Syrian state television late Wednesday.

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Syria’s conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it broke out in 2011 after security forces cracked down on anti-government protests.

The Syrian army is composed of three main groups: Soldiers who enlist voluntarily, those conscripted as part of compulsory military service, and reservists, who have completed their service but can be summoned for further duty at any time.

Over the years, the army leadership repeatedly extended reservists’ terms of service -- currently set at six years -- and failed to demobilize soldiers whose compulsory military service had ended.

Sleiman said the demobilization of reservists will be based on a three-phase plan beginning next month and running until the end of October 2025.

Reserve service will be reduced to a maximum of two years in the final phase, he added.

Sleiman said the decision aimed to “achieve an advanced army that relies on voluntary enlistment, through a new volunteer contract,” according to which anyone who has completed five years of service and does not wish to continue will be discharged.

Those who enlisted voluntarily and have served for 10 years will be exempted from all reserve service, he added.

The military has announced several demobilizations since the conflict broke out.

In a 2015 interview, President Bashar al-Assad highlighted the importance of “volunteer” fighters, without whom “the army would not have been able to hold on for four and a half years of such a difficult war.”

With support from Iran, and after Russia intervened militarily in support of the government in September 2015, al-Assad was able to regain much of the territory lost in the early years of the conflict.

A 2021 report from the European Union’s asylum agency said that “the evasion of conscription has been reported as one of the main reasons for young men over the age of 18 having fled Syria” and key obstacle to their return.

In the war’s early years, experts said a combination of casualties, defections and draft-dodging saw the military lose half of its 300,000-strong force.

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