In a matter of two years, the Syrian Desert Hawks (var. Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra) have become one of the most effective fighting forces in the Syrian War; however, very little is known about this paramilitary group.
Often described as a unit from the pro-government “National Defense Forces” (var. NDF), the Desert Hawks actually have no affiliation with the latter or the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
The man behind the Desert Hawks:
The Desert Hawks were originally started by a retired Syrian Army officer, General Mohammad Jaber, in early 2013.
Following his retirement from the Syrian Armed Forces, General Jaber used his contacts in the government to secure lucrative business deals that included the purchase of oil and natural gas refineries.
General Jaber would quickly become the J.D. Rockefeller of Syrian businessmen, accumulating a large fortune that afforded him the ability to travel around the world and purchase lucrative villas in several Mediterranean countries.
When the Syrian conflict turned violent, General Jaber found his economic interests facing a grave threat from armed groups.
Formation of the Desert Hawks:
Syria is not known for its prevalence of defense contracting companies; so when General Jaber went searching for mercenaries to protect his oil assets in the Syrian Desert, he quickly realized he was alone in this matter.
With his hundreds of millions of dollars, General Jaber decided to recruit former soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army’s Special Forces.
General Jaber offered generous wages to these men in return for their allegiance and protection.
Unlike the Syrian Arab Army, General Jaber purchased most of the equipment for his mercenaries from western arms dealers.
From desert camouflage battle fatigues to U.S. manufactured pick-up trucks; these soldiers-for-hire were well-equipped for their future assignments.
War in the desert:
Not long after their formation, the Desert Hawks faced an incredible threat from local rebel groups; however, nothing could prepare them for the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) in the Summer of 2014.
ISIS swept through much of Syria’s eastern countryside, capturing all of the rebel-held territory in the provinces of Al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor, Al-Raqqa, and east Homs.
As a result of their expansion, ISIS was position to attack the government controlled “Al-Sha’ar Gas Fields” in northeast Homs.
Before ISIS’ presence in northeast Homs, the Desert Hawks rarely participated in battles against the anti-government forces.
When the predominately Armenian city of Kessab was captured by the jihadist rebels in 2014, several Desert Hawks from rural Latakia received permission from General Jaber to help drive back Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham and reclaim the Turkish border-crossing.
Following the Kessab battle, the Desert Hawks returned to their posts, until they were asked by the Syrian government to help liberate the Al-Sha’ar Gas Fields in late 2014.
The Desert Hawks honored this request from the government and helped liberate the Al-Sha’ar Gas Fields.
Russia enters the war:
Russia’s entry into the Syrian Conflict brought about many changes; particularly, the designation of troops at the battle fronts.
The lack of experienced militiamen created a serious problem for the Russian military advisers that were attempting to recruit citizen soldiers to handle their new equipment.
Known for his theatrical appearances and large presence, General Jaber reached out to the Russians and offered his force in exchange for weapons and armor.
The war was losing General Jaber money; this was an opportunity for him to reclaim his wealth, while also displaying his patriotism.
The Desert Hawks would prove to be a very effective fighting force, capturing over 200 km of territory in northern Latakia, while also liberating the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur).
Rivalry with the Tiger Forces:
The Syrian Arab Army’s “Tiger Forces” are considered the most popular unit among the pro-government crowd.
The emergence of the Desert Hawks in late 2015 created an instant rivalry with the Tiger Forces, who are led by the prominent field commander, Colonel Suheil Al-Hassan.
Unlike the Desert Hawks, the Tiger Forces are considered Syria’s premier special forces unit; they did not exist prior to this war.
Prior the founding of the Tiger Forces in 2013, the Syrian paratroopers were considered some of Syria’s most elite soldiers.
Many of the Desert Hawks are former paratroopers that served alongside Colonel Hassan, until he was promoted to the intelligence branch of the Syrian Arab Army in the 1990s.
Whether it is fueled by resentment or egotism, both pro-government units make sure to avoid one another at all costs.
The Desert Hawks are now leading the charge to the provincial capital of Al-Raqqa, where they are looking to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham before the U.S. backed rebels reach the city.
General Jaber mobilized and redeployed all of his soldiers from the Latakia Governorate to east Hama in order to participate in this large-scale offensive.
The Desert Hawks are currently 35 km west of the Tabaqa Military Airport, which is the closest any government force has been to this military installation since they lost it in August of 2014.