Previously I wrote a profile of the Local Defence Forces unit Fawj al-Nabi al-Akram, which has been deployed in the north Hama countryside amid the latest round of military operations in Syria's northwest.
On 10 May 2019, I interviewed Hassan Halak, who is a member of Fawj al-Nabi al-Akram. We discussed his own history, the Local Defence Forces and the operations in Syria's northwest. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
A: I am from Aleppo and I worked as a photographer. I was born in 1995.
Q: And you were studying in Damascus at the time of the beginning of the events?
Q: Were you studying photography?
A: Yes I studied for around a year.
Q: And when did you bear arms for the first time against terrorism?
A: 2015. The Local Defence formation.
Q: And for what reasons did you bear arms?
A: Compulsory military service.
Q: Your service in the Local Defence is tantamount to compulsory military service?
A: Yes, correct.
Q: And when did you join Fawj al-Nabi al-Akram?
A: 25 December 2018.
Q: And before this you were not in a specific formation?
A: I was in the Sheikh al-Jabal formation. I remained in it for 3 years.
Q: In what areas did you fight? And were you wounded?
A: Yes, I was wounded in Latakia countryside. I fought in south Hama countryside, Deir al-Zor al-Mayadeen, and Latakia countryside.
Q: And now you are fighting in north Hama countryside?
Q: Who was responsible for your training courses?
A: Officers from the army.
Q: From the Syrian Arab Army you mean.
Q: Didn't Hujjaj from the Revolutionary Guard [IRGC] train you too?
A: They were overseeing the training courses only.
Q: And weapons from the army?
Q: How do you receive a salary?
A: Smart card from the commercial bank.
Q: But you don't know from where the salary comes exactly?
A: The salary comes from Iran to a branch in al-Sham and later it is transferred to the smart cards.
Q: And officers from the Syrian Arab Army have been assigned to your regiments in the Local Defence as well?
A: Yes in an entire sense in all areas of Syria in the Local Defence.
Q: Currently what are your expectations regarding the operations in north Hama countryside?
A: Currently the operations have begun in areas from the peripheries of Idlib.
Q: But the aim is to seize the peripheries of Idlib only until now?
A: Of course from the peripheries to bring together the insurgents in a small area.
Q: And later begin the final operations?
Q: There is talk that the Turks have bases on the peripheries of Idlib. Have they withdrawn from their positions?
A: Yes the withdrawal was yesterday night.
Q: Currently the regiment [Fawj al-Nabi al-Akram] has not participated in the assault operations, right?
A: No, it has not participated. The operations concerned with liberating Idlib are led by Suhail Hassan the one nicknamed al-Nimr and members of air intelligence personnel.
Q: So the Local Defence does not have an important role in these operations?
A: Not at all.