Leadership: Turkey Succors Syria


February 16, 2011:  Turkey and Syria continue to forge closer military links. For example, it was recently announced that the Turkish Army, a regional superpower and one of the most competent militaries in the region, will be assisting in the training and development of Syrian ground forces.   The Turkish Army Chief of Staff visited the Syrian capital of Damascus last December to discuss a cooperative agreement to help the Syrians improve the training and readiness of their armed forces. 

Turkey and Syria have had complicated relations in the past. The two countries nearly came to the brink of war in 1998 over the issue of Kurdish insurgent groups being based in Syria. Since then, however, relations have improved dramatically, mainly because Syria now takes a hard line against Kurdish separatists. Harboring and supporting insurgent groups is nothing new for the Syrians, and they continue to shelter and support a plethora of Arab extremist organizations. But the country's government is also realistic to some degree and aware of how isolated it is in many respects. Increased cooperation, especially of a military nature, is a big win for the Syrians since it gives them an increased measure of political and diplomatic legitimacy. 

On a technical level, the help is sorely needed. Syria can barely afford to put its own soldiers through basic training. Turkey has a reputation for maintaining a powerful, professional military and an agreement like this would help them bolster sorely-needed combat skills. 

While extra training is certainly helpful, Syria has a long way to go before it can become a regional power again. Currently, Syria has 220,000 troops in the army, 41 percent of them professional officers and NCOs, the rest conscripts. These are organized into eight armored divisions, three mechanized division, one special operations division and the Republican Guard Division (for protecting the president). There are four independent infantry brigades, and a border guard brigade. There are seven artillery brigades. The army has 4,800 tanks, a third of them T-72s, some of them upgraded. The rest of their tanks are ancient T-62s and T-55s. The tank force is not only old, but poorly maintained. The air force isn't much better off, with 500 combat aircraft. But only 60 of them are modern MiG-29s (comparable to early model F-16s). Most of the aircraft are Cold War era MiG-21/25/23 models. Pilots are poorly trained and the aircraft are poorly maintained.



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