The Qalamoun Shield Forces (Arabic: Quwat Dir’ al-Qalamoun, short: QSF) are a militia formed by natives of the Qalamun Mountains that fight for the Assad government during the Syrian Civil War. Originally a small auxiliary and self-defense group, QSF grew into relatively large and well-equipped paramilitary force that operates nationwide. Currently led by Firas Jaz'ah, the Qalamoun Shield Forces are closely affiliated with the 3rd Armoured Division.
Early history as Republican Guard auxiliaries
The origins of the Qalamoun Shield Forces lie in a small militia of the same name that was set up in al-Nabek after its capture from rebels during the Battle of Qalamoun (2013). Formed by "notables, retired officers and other locals" on 9 January 2014, this unit was designated as auxiliaries to the Republican Guard and was supposed to secure areas retaken from rebel groups. A Damascus native named Adel Ibrahim Dellah eventually became commander of the group. In course of 2015, the nascent QSF had significantly grown in numbers (claiming hundreds of members) and expanded its operations: Fighting at the side of the Republican Guard, the militia not only took part in further offensive operations in the western Qalamoun mountains, but also fought in the wider Rif Dimashq Governorate such as at Harasta. Later into the year, the Qalamoun Shield Forces even sent fighters to take part in the Battle of Aleppo and the Homs offensive (November–December 2015) against ISIL. During these operations, the group began to closely cooperate with the 3rd Armoured Division, leading to the Qalamoun Shield Forces' loyalties shifting away from the Republican Guard.
In the first half of 2016, the militia became especially active in the Syrian steppe and Syrian Desert, fighting in the Palmyra offensive (March 2016), the Battle of al-Qaryatayn (March–April 2016) and the Al-Dumayr offensive (April 2016). Around this time, Syrian Army lieutenant colonel Firas Jaz'ah became the "general supervisor" of the militia, though Adel Ibrahim Dellah continued to serve as military commander of QSF.
Split and service with the 3rd Division
In May 2016, QSF finally split due to the group's divided loyalties: One faction under the militia's old commander Adel Ibrahim Dellah cut all ties with the 3rd Division and formed a new group, the "Homeland Protection Forces". The other faction, led by Firas Jaz'ah, remained with the 3rd Division and continued to function under the name "Qalamoun Shield Forces". This group significantly expanded its recruitment efforts in the wider Qalamoun area, and also began to enlist hundreds of former Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels into its ranks as part of reconciliation agreements. Already by early 2017, some estimated that about 50% or more of QSF consisted of ex-insurgents; others however claimed that the numbers were closer to around 10%.
Thus strengthened despite the Homeland Protection Forces' break-off, the Qalamoun Shield Forces further expanded their operations throughout Syria. In the Syrian Desert, QSF helped to defend the Tiyas Military Airbase from ISIL during the Palmyra offensive (December 2016), and then took part in numerous government (counter-)offensives which aimed at reclaiming all of central Syria from the Islamic State and various FSA groups: The Eastern Homs offensive (2017), East Hama offensive (2017), the Syrian Desert campaign (May–July 2017) and the Central Syria campaign (July 2017–present). The Qalamoun Shield Forces also helped to stall and/or defeat major rebel offensives in northern Hama Governorate in 2016 and 2017.
Meanwhile, QSF continued to be active in its core regions in southwestern Syria, where it aided the government conquest of the Barada river valley in early 2017, and closely cooperated with Hezbollah to destroy the last holdouts of Tahrir al-Sham, the Syrian opposition, and ISIL at the Lebanese border. In course of these operations in the Qalamun Mountains, QSF recruited more ex-rebels into its ranks, allegedly promising some of them that they would only have to serve in their own home areas. Despite this, pro-rebel media claimed that QSF later forced several of these ex-rebels (from al-Tall) to fight against ISIL in the eastern desert.
Organization, support and funding
The Qalamoun Shield Forces are led by Firas Jaz'ah, a lieutenant colonel who is closely affiliated with the 3rd Division, and are organized into several sub-units according to their places of origin. Though most of the militia's fighters are from the wider Qalamoun region, they are known to also have members from Damascus and the Golan Heights. In their core areas, QSF sometimes acts as police force.
Though QSF is most closely connected to the 3rd Division, it never completely separated from the Republican Guard and also maintains links with the Air Force Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Directorates. The latter provides funding to the group, though QSF is mostly financed by the Syrian Ministry of Defense.
The Qalamoun Shield Forces are relatively well equipped, using technicals, 9M113 Konkurs anti-tank missile, and Syrian "Bourkan" (Vulcano) rockets. In early 2017, all fighters of QSF were trained and equipped by the Russian Armed Forces.
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