In the aftermath of the Syrian government's recapture of the southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra in summer 2018 through a combination of military force and reconciliation agreements, auxiliary groups have been set up in a number of areas to maintain security and recruit locals. The Syrian army's 4th Division has emerged as one of the main parties behind the establishment of auxiliary groups, alongside the military intelligence (Military Security/al-Amn al-Askari) and the Russian-backed V Corps.
Within the southwest Deraa countryside, three auxiliary groups of note are:
- The group of Abu Murshad, who is from Tafas.
- The group of Abu Hayan, who is from Heet.
- The group of Abu Kinan, who is from the Yarmouk Basin village of al-Qusayr.
Of these groups, the Abu Murshad group is affiliated with the V Corps. Abu Hayan was the leader of the Salafi faction Ahrar al-Sham in Heet, but is now reputedly affiliated with the Military Security and is head of the Heet unit/detachment (another account I have heard is that he is affiliated with the V Corps, but this is probably incorrect). The Abu Kinan group is affiliated with the 4th Division. On 13 March 2019, I conducted an interview with a member of the Abu Kinan group. Originally from Heet, this person was a member of Liwa al-Haramain rebel faction of Heet before he became affiliated with the Abu Kinan group.
The interview has been condensed slightly for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
A map of southwest Deraa countryside showing the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the Abu Kinan group in the region [southwest Deraa countryside] exactly?
A: Checkpoints and hajana [border protection], and a portion is in the Thalatha-Sitat regiment that is present in Zayzun.
Q: In which localities is the group deployed exactly?
A: Heet, al-Shajra, al-Qusayr, Koaiya, Bayt Arah, and there are individuals from the rest of the villages affiliated with the Abu Kinan group.
Q: Yes. What does it mean exactly that the group is affiliated with the 4th Division? Do you receive salaries from it and do you have ID cards from it etc.?
A: I have been assigned to the Heet checkpoint, present at the entrance to the locality. We have not yet received salaries, but they are giving us grants. The ID cards are temporary, they are giving us taswiya [regularizing of status] cards.
Q: What is the grant they have given you exactly?
A: Around 40,000 [Syrian pounds].
Q: When did they give you it exactly?
A: Two days ago they gave us 10 [10,000 Syrian pounds].
Q: So every so often they give you a grant?
A: Yes, but there is a group affiliated with Yusuf al-Aishat [NB: he was a rebel commander in Heet prior to the Syrian government's recapture of Deraa and Quneitra]. They have received regular salaries and they have gone on a course.
Q: Not within your group?
A: No, not from our group. These people are a group by itself, affiliated with Yusuf al-Aishat within the 4th Division.
Q: Yes, but in which area?
A: From Heet. With him are 50 people. They have gone on a course and received salaries and some days later they have an assignment. We have here in the area the 4th Division: it has become a force. And with it are many members affiliated with it.
Q: How many members does the Abu Kinan group have approximately?
A: Around 700.
Q: What are the promises from the 4th Division exactly?
A: Currently there is a promise. Yesterday there was a meeting.
Q: Yes? And what happened in the meeting?
A:We are around 3000 personnel affiliated with the 4th. Within two months the detainees will go out. They have promised us that the detainees will go out within two months.
Q: Generally how is the security situation in the Yarmouk Basin?
A: Quasi-good. But the people have made a tumult against matters of reserve service. And the living is difficult. People's situation is tired. It is all expensive. And gas is not available in good quantity. I am one of the personnel. I am married, and I am working bound by the work shifts of the checkpoint, but we are not receiving salaries. The situation is calm, better than before, but the material situation is zero.
Q: There are no security problems of kidnapping, criminal gangs and this thing?
A: No. But among us they threw a bomb two days ago at the house of someone, because he refers reports about the people. It is the problem that has arisen.
Q: In addition to the Abu Kinan group, what are the main factions of the local forces in the area?
A: There are the V Corps groups, and the Military Security [al-Amn al-Askari] groups. And there are the local councils and municipal office; these people work with the Military Security to secure the locality for food goods and fuels. And the Military Security undertakes patrols in cooperation with the 4th Division so nothing happens in the area.
Q: The Military Security has the greatest influence in the area?
A: The Military Security are of the sons of the land. They have formed a group and joined with the Military Security to protect the land. And there is a role for the 4th Division as well. Not all are the Military Security. The 4th Division also has a big role. Some time ago the 4th Division arrested a Dawa'esh [Islamic State] cell. They arrested a group of Dawa'esh who were recruiting children to undertake operations for Da'esh [Islamic State].
Q: Where did they arrest them exactly?
A: Among us here in Heet. They wanted to blow up the bakery and the detachment and checkpoint of the 4th Division. And they wanted to assassinate some of the sons of the locality.
Q: The cell was of the sons of Heet?
Q: And now these people are in prison?
Q: It is said that Hezbollah works with the 4th Division in the area. Is this true?
A: No, not true. Hezbollah has no presence in the entire area.
Q: I see. Regarding the Military Security, its base is in Tel Shihab?
A: The foundational base is in al-Shajra and in Deraa [city]. But there are detachments in Heet, Tel Shihab, Tafas and Muzayrib.
Q: Why did you yourself join the 4th Division rather than the V Corps?
A: The 4th Division is the only one that protects its personnel. And my brother is enlisted and advised me to join the 4th Division. And service is here in the area.
Q: Ahh. So your brother is in the 4th Division and he advised you to join as well?
A: My brother is a policeman, but he advised me to join the 4th.
Q: Yes. I heard that there is pressure on the V Corps to go to Idlib.
A: Yes. And assignments.
Q: As for the 4th Division, there is no such pressure?
Q: Praise be to God. Finally do you prefer life now to life before the reconciliation?
A: Look, the individual has lost. 8 years and we were not victorious and we lost the best of our youth and it all became criminal. And people arose on the shoulders of people. In addition to this, Da'esh came and ruined the revolution. And now the individual wants to get on with life because we is tired and we are at a loss. And the revolution was made to go to waste by the dollar.
Q: So better for stability to return.
A: Of course.
Q: Something I forgot to ask. What is the system of work with the 4th Division? Meaning how many days do you work each month? And how many days rest?
A: The system, tomorrow we have a meeting. And they will decide how work goes.
Q: Yes. But before this what was the system?
A: Two days by one day I have been on shift.
Q: Yes. So two days work and one day leave permit?
A: Yes. Shifts at the checkpoint. But we youth are in agreement with each other. We let each other rest.