The 4th Armoured Division was formed in 1984 out of the remains of the Defense Companies (Saraya Al-Difa’) that had been dismantled after Rifa’at al-Assad’s failed coup attempt against his brother President Hafez al-Assad.
Major General Mohammad Ali Dirghak currently leads the 4th Armoured Division while the Syrian President’s brother Maher al-Assad serves as a Brigadier. Some claim that a majority of orders are given by Maher al-Assad but in reality the 4th Armoured Division is run in accordance to the typical chain of command hierarchy followed by all sectors of the Syrian Arab Army.
The division numbers 14,000-15,000 fighters and mainly dependents on volunteers from Homs and the Syrian coast in addition to conscripts spanning all Syrian provinces. Almost all of the division’s troops are career soldiers in contrast to the conscripts who comprise a majority of other SAA units.
Since its inception, the 4th Armoured Division had had superior financial and material support than the rest of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) as well as gaining access to some of the most advanced weapons. The division served first and foremost as the government protection force, the 4th Armored Division and was oriented against both internal and external threats.
The 4th Armoured Division consists of three armored brigades and one mechanized brigade. During the conflict, an additional special forces regiment was attached to the division, making it larger than conventional armoured divisions. It is, for the most part, based in groups of small bases north and west of Damascus, likely for security reasons.
The 4th Armoured Division has performed as an indispensable elite unit supporting the Bashar Assad government since the start of the ongoing Syrian crisis. It was the 4th Armoured Division that entered Dara’a in 2011 as well as the towns of Rastan an Talbiseh in Homs to restore order. As the events developed and the crisis escalated to all-out warfare, the division began fighting its first battles and suffering its first losses. It was ordered to re-enter Dara’a in the beginning of 2012; however, this time it faced fierce resistance and suffered heavy losses.
Nevertheless, it succeeded in recapturing large parts of Dara’a and its countryside as well as recapturing Hama with the support of other formations of the Syrian Special Forces. In that operation, there were almost no or very low civilian or military losses. A reconciliation treaty was forced onto the city, and all weapons were confiscated.
The next mission was in Idlib where the division was able to recapture the city in the span of a week with virtually no civilian or infrastructure damage. However, it failed to restore order to the city’s countryside even when it was supported by other armored formations. The 4th Armoured Division suffered massive losses as it attempted to recapture Idlib’s eastern countryside. The Battle for Idlib in 2012 was the last major deployment of the 4th Armoured Division outside of Damascus since the militants launched the major assault on the capital in 2012 that was repelled by the Republican Guard.
The need for a powerful force in the western fringes of the Syrian capital proved significant. The division began expanding its operations in western Damascus as well as regions north of the capital to isolate rebel gatherings and strongholds from each other as what happened in Wadi Barada, Jimraya, al-Tal, and Western Ghouta.
Sieges were laid for years to paralyze the jihadist expansion near the capital. One of the 4th Armoured Division’s most significant achievements was its siege of Darayya, a city west of Damascus and south of the Mazzeh Airbase as well as encircling Moadamiyah and separating it from Darayya. Between 2013 and 2014, the battle-hardened division managed to secure the surroundings of Sayedda Zainab Shrine with the support of the the Brigade of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas south of Damascus advancing onto Babbila and Yalda and forcing them to the reconciliation table. This development allowed the Syrian Armed Forces to strengthen the siege on the remnants of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Yarmouk and Tadamon districts.
With the beginning of the Russian intervention in 2015, the 4th Mechanized Division began the process of emptying the pockets it had successfully isolated since 2012.
The 42nd Brigade, dubbed “Ghaith Forces” and led by Colonel Ghaith Dalla, was armed with heavy Burkan and Golan 400 multiple launch rocket systems as well as T-72 tank with slat and spaced armor. Due to the special training and maintenance of the Ghaith Forces, they were able to capture Moadamiyah, Khan Al-Sheh, Wadi Barada, and Darayya.
This force is now engaged in decisive battles in the Qaboun region east of Damascus. Government forces have repelled a major attack by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies in the area and now they are attempting to split the pocket into two separate parts. If the 4th Armoured Division and other pro-government units succeed in this, they will be able to clean the remaining pockets one by one. In this case, militant defenses will collapse soon.
The 4th Armoured Division is mainly armed with T-72AV, T-72M1, and T-55MV battle tanks with reactive armor and the ability to launch guided missiles. The force is also equipped with T-72 Sniper an advanced Italian version with the TURMS-T Fire Control System which is considered the most modern in the Syrian land force. This tank has special night capabilities.
The 4th Armoured Division also depends on a large variety of multiple launch rocket systems along with some 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers.
Today, the 4th Armoured Division is considered one of the most experienced divisions in urban warfare among its counterpart divisions in the SAA and takes a large share of credit in the improvement of the security status in Damascus and its countryside. It is also one of the few divisions that did not suffer from the large waves of defections that took place in 2011 and 2012.