Syrian Army’s 5th Assault Corps: Formation, Operations, Capabilities

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The 5th Assault Corps drew the media attention in early 2017 following the fall of Palmyra to ISIS, which showed the need for more well-trained and equipped infantry to deal with crisis situations even more evident. The Syrian military announced the formation of the 5th Assault Corps in November 2016 as an elite force consisting solely of volunteers and backed up by Russia and Iran.

Currently, the corps is over 10,000 troops strong. The leadership of the corps is headquartered in Latakia with military bases scattered about Hama and Palmyra. The top commanders of the force remain unknown. It is believed that it is led by a group of Syrian commanders, aided by large presence of Russian advisors.

Since the establishment of the 5th Corps, the force was participated in several offensive operations the first and most important of which was the Palmyra operation. Troops of the 5th Corps were able to repel ISIS attacks against the key T4 Military Airbase in spite of the force’s relative lack of combat experience at that time.

After successfully defending the airbase against incessant ISIS attacks for several weeks, 5th Corps troops began rapid advance toward Palmyra, using new tactics and with intense Russian air support.  On March 4, the 5th Corps and allied forces recaptured the ancient city with very few casualties in contrast to ISIS death toll of over 300 fighters. The 5th Corps would not stop in Palmyra, as the force would take on a number of operations to expand the buffer zone around Palmyra, including the capture of the Palmyra Silos and a number of hills and oil fields north and south of the city.

The 5th Corps was the first force to support the Syrian Army and the NDF during the latest jihadist offensive on Hama. On the 21st of March, fighters from the corps along with the NDF and Tiger Forces were able to absorb the attack and launch a successful counterattack recapturing over the territories rebels had taken in their offensive.

Many reports suggest that the 5th Corps will be the backbone of the anticipated offensive in east Homs that is aimed at lifting the siege of Deir Ezzor. In fact, many tribal fighters and Deir Ezzor locals have already begun to volunteer for the corps even as Russia continues to bolster the capabilities financially and militarily. The operation that may be launched in late 2017 will seek to retake the 150km-long highway between Palmyra and Deir Ezzor, in what would be one of the largest operations since the beginning of the Syrian war.

The 5th Corps includes several volunteer groups in its forces including Assad Shield, Mahardeh Forces, and Martyrdom or Victory Groups. However, the most important are the following:

ISIS Hunters: A special operations group formed by volunteers who lost relatives and loved ones to ISIS terrorism. Most of its fighters are native to Homs countryside and Palmyra. This group is distinguished by the fact that it was fully armed and trained by Russia. It has already carried out a large score of raids and operations on ISIS positions all around Palmyra; those operations are believed to be the reason the city was recaptured in a very short time.

Tribal Forces: A group of volunteers from the tribes of Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, and Hasakah. This was the force that stormed Palmyra during the last phase of the offensive. It is believed that this group will be the spearhead force of the anticipated Deir Ezzor offensive.

Ba’ath Brigades: A military group formed from members of the ruling Ba’ath Party. The group boasts no fewer than 2,000 fighters and is mainly tasked with defensive operations in the Palmyra desert to ensure the city will not fall again.

As for the weapons operated by the 5th Corps, most were supplied by Russian Army. T-72B3 tanks with Kontakt 5 reactive armor system & thermal sight are perhaps the most advanced weapon systems used by 5th Corps fighters. The Corps are also abundantly equipped with T-62m tanks with improved armor protection which allowed them to survive at least 5 ATGM hits, including by TOW missiles, in Palmyra and north Hama, with none of the crewmembers becoming casualties. In addition to the T-62 ranks, the force is well-equipped with BMP-1s, BMP-2s, GAZ Vodnik wheeled APCs armed with 14.5mm machineguns that are also used as a field ambulance in addition to many UAZ Patriot light utility vehicles armed with 12.7mm machineguns and 30mm automatic grenade launchers.

Russia continues to supply more equipment and ammo on a routine basis as the group increases in size and responsibilities. The 5th Corps so far is a successful experiment in that it managed to accomplish all assigned missions and is a precursor to merging all militias that support the Syrian Army into an official part of the Syrian Armed Forces in the future. Some experts believe that the creation of the 5th Corps is the first part of the Russian-led attempt to improve the Syrian security system and to create a united command structure that will be able to manage, control and absorb various militias supporting the government. In turn, pro-government groups should also be interested in further formalization of their relations with the government and integration into the Syrian military and security services. Therefore, their members will be able to take a rightful place in the post-war Syria.

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  • Attrition47

    Nice to see the Regime thinking in the long term and including as many Syrian groups as possible.

  • Gjergj

    A so-much needed information and a very well written article.

  • dutchnational

    If this corps were to be used for breaking the siege of DeZ, that would be excellent.

    Some remarks :

    Late 2017 seems a bit late to start this advance of some almost 200 kms to DeZ. If they need two months for this advance, inclusing securing the flanks, they will be arriving early 2018. Will there still be a siege at that time?

    A corps of just 10.000, even if well equipped, seems like a small force to advance some 200 kms where they will also have to secure the flanks and leave troops all along the advance in case of flanking attacks. In my mind they need at least twentt to thirty thousend men for this advance including the fight in and around the city.

    If they use the corps as a nucleus for a total force of up to thirty thousand, do they even have that many available without stripping western Syria?

    • Few additional notes:
      1) 10,000 is the current number. More people are expected to join. The 5th Corps is not the only force that will likely participate in the operation.
      2) The DZ offensive is significantly delayed because of constatly appearing threats across Syria (for example the northern Hama advance of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham & Co) and a lack of resources for it.
      3) DZ has a significant strategic value, but the operation will draw a notable force needed at other fronts. Many depends on the activity of militants in Idlib, near Damscus and Aleppo, and actions of the US-led coalition etc.
      4) The operation will be launched when the situation allows this. (roughly late 2017) However, we should note that if the government makes a “strong decision” to advance on Deir Ezzor, all factors could be ingored. (for example the Syrian army’s advance on Tabqa in 2016)
      P.S. For sure, SF does not know “official” plans of the Syrian military for these operations, but our forecasts are very close to the reality, in general. We recommend these:
      https://southfront.org/syrian-war-report-december-20-2016-what-is-syrian-army-going-to-do-now/
      https://southfront.org/aleppo-liberated-now/

      • dutchnational

        I appreciate your response but you mostly either agree with the points I made or you ignore them.

        The advance on Taqba in 2016 is a prime example. That advance was a disaster as the flanks were not secured and IS routed the advancing force. So any attack on DeZ has to include securing the flanks.

        Furthermore, it is highly debatable that DeZ can last another nine months or longer.

        As your points 2+3. suggest, developments can alter the scenario for the SAA. This also suggests it is the SAA reacting to rebels instead of rebels and IS reacting to SAA. Opposition sets the agenda it seems, which shows the weak position of SAA.

        • Jens Holm

          I wont try to be kind of extra bright, but You cant just make a new structure and put it on a Deir El Zor or Tabqa operation.

          So to me they should be veterans by reducing the amount of battlefields and give ISIS a mach, where they can. I still dont get why SAA dont take the rest of the western part of Assad lake.

          Your frontline wont be longer and could kill ISIS every day.

          Of course wet dreams can be better …

  • Hrky75

    Western military experts speak highly of the Russian concept of combined arms battalion, a back bone of modern mech units. It consists of up to 9 companies: tank (1), infantry(3-4), artillery(1), AA(1), AT(1), communication etc. According to those reports these units would be more flexible and efficient on the modern battlefield then current NATO counterparts – based on Brigade Combat Teams. If the Russians are implementing elements of this doctrine to the 5 Corp that would mean that the unit has up to 10 independent battalions (in reality small regiments with 800-1000 people) in addition to organic heavy artillery, logistic, engineers etc. A couple of these battalions of highly motivated, organized, trained and regularly paid(!!!) soldiers working in coordination and supported by corps artillery are enough to stop and reverse any militant advance – as shown in Hama. Keep up the good work SAA!

    • Hisham Saber

      One day, the 5th Corp. will liberate Jerusalem. Along with Hezbollah, whom have grown big muscles in Syria. Its just a matter of time. The forces the anglo-Zionists unleashed in Syria will come back to haunt Israel, Jordan, Turkey and U.S. interests.

      Russia, Iran, freedom seeking Arabs, and China are the winners. With Arab manpower, Russian weapons and Chinese bank-roll/cash, the forces of global hegemony and belligerence will be defeated. Its only a matter of time. It will all go down in the 21st century.

      • dutchnational

        Hezbollah : maybe 10k+, 5th Corps : 10k+.. Suppose with some additions, say 50k men.

        They are going to attack Israel, IDF when fully mobilized 20%+ of 6 million Israeli jews, druse, beduin etc, say 1.3 million+, including highly sophisticated airforce, navy, tanks etc and they will be in a defensive position and with the high ground,

        No way any arab army is going to win against them and even if they they did, the IDF would, before the genocide would start, execute the Massada scenario.

        The whole of Israel would die but including all Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanese, Lebanese, most Turks and Irakis and Iranians when Israel would use its 200+ nuclear bombs on all surrounding countries.

        No more Jerusalem either.

        Afterwards, the remaining jews in the world will resettle in a greater Israel, even if they have to wait two generations before the readiation will disappear.

        To your liking?

      • Hrky75

        Neocons and their Zionist friends would adore that scenario in order to nuke a few million Arabs under the pretext of “defending western values”. Jerusalem can’t be “liberated” simply because it can’t be really occupied – not in the long term anyway. I would like to see a victory of Syrian people and justice for the Palestinians – not an all out genocide

      • Jens Holm

        Are total spoiling again. So why not mars.

    • dutchnational

      Agreed as long as their opposition is a partially armed militia. Against a regular army, the results could be quite different.

      • Hrky75

        After 6 years of war against half of NATO and dozen of Saudi financed militias it would hardly be an issue. SAA needs to be reorganized and reequipped from scratch. And than even some regular armies in the neighborhood would learn why IDF generals strongly advised US against fighting Syria.

      • Wahid Algiers

        Right, but the enemies all are partly armed. Menas, the needs were specified correct to create and build the 5th.

    • Jonathan Cohen

      why use armed pickups when Russia has thousands or T-44 and T-34 tanks waiting in storage and can mass produce thermal sights and electronics for them. As well as T-54.

      • Max Glazer

        Tanks are slow. Armed pickups are much faster when it comes to transiting. Also tank has very limited visibility.

  • Tudor Miron

    5th assault corps was adressed about a couple of weeks ago in an interview of respected mil expert. He said that this one was build under full control and tuition of Russian army officers and might be the prototype of SAA future in years to come. Also – look at the guys around 3:10 of the above video. Don’t tell me those are locals :)

    • dutchnational

      The map suggests the tactics the SDF has been using for years.

      • Jens Holm

        Its a classic one and works well for SDF as well as peshmerga and PKK.

  • hhabana

    Great job on video! Outstanding job guys!

  • Gabriel Hollows

    All of Syria coming together to kick out the terrorists. It’s almost like a movie.

    Long live Assad!

    • Jens Holm

      Laughable words. The overwhelming parts of the socalled terrorrists actuall are Syrians. Even the approx 1,7 mio neutral kurds are.

      And where do You have the heavy support for the soldier lack among the 8-10 mio. refugees – NOWHERE.

      You only talk for the Assad Mifiosa Baaathista corruptive killing all opposition regime and not all the French Protectorat of Syria, which should have been more countries in a very different way.

      And the army solutions here has the same lack of improvements. The soldiers as well as the lower ranks are just puppets in military matters as well. Those are made stupid by centralized systems and dont take up effective production incl. killing people as an army.

      Im sure restructuctions as descriebed in the article are improvements, but the main thing is not solved and cant in a one string dicatorship, where the main thing is only learning to obey.

      The start of that is already home and in schools where all inclusive girls get more arfgumentation and influence and its a common thing, they learn to act and replace bad habits and under that statics away. And why. Because most placed old men are dictators.

      You have a complete made worrld we will never understand. I have just written Your neighbors – as turks – would like childrapers free, if they marry the girl. We give ANY childrape from 4 to 12 years of prison right away.

      Yours are almost all over – NO RIGHTS, THEREFORE YOU DONT HAVE TO FEEL ANY RESPONSIBLE. I still see those lost 30 vehicles in Palmyra for me, where even sandstorm og big sattelite maps were taken as ignorable. Some here wrote: ´They cant come, we have the finest infrared from the russians. Well, turn it on or use eys, ears.

      Well, please dont. If You argue like that as above, You murderes will loose. But in military matters to much is far out here. The SAA will never get those shills with uneducated obeince at the lower levels. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e487e09232581182a25c94125c61334bb6b70a0e4a2f217e31674aacd4d775f2.jpg

      • Max Glazer

        Under Russian guidance Syrians are winning. Fact.

        Terrorists in Syria are NOT Syrian. They are all imports and mercenaries. Fact.

        Syria under Bashar Al-Assad is NOT a dictatorship. Fact.

        At lower levels in ANY country all you get is nothing but obedience towards the high-ups, so get a grip.

        What opposition you lying shill? Armed one? They ALL deserve to die like the subhumans that they are.

        GTFO

        • Jens Holm

          Thats against all proven facts during many years. Dont You have Internet ?

          • Max Glazer

            I’m replying to your drivel using the internet lmao

            What facts? Proven by whom? White Helmets? Western media? Western “intelligence community”? Pentagon? White House? Buckingham Palace? What a joke.

          • Jens Holm

            You really do confirm, why I so often prefare a fence around You, and we should not be there at all.

            I

          • Max Glazer

            A fence should be built around USA and Western Europe so that they don’t go beyond it and not screw up other countries. That is what you should prepare a fence around.

  • Aleks Black
    • Kell

      Seal the top and make a couldron

      • Max Glazer

        That is what Russians always do.

  • Kell

    Excellent!!