Recruits from a variety of areas across Syria have joined the Local Defence Forces (LDF), which is backed by the asdiqa' ('friends', referring to Hezbollah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
Today I interviewed Abu Nawras al-Tadmuri, a fighter in the LDF originally from Palmyra in the Homs desert (which attracted global media attention when the Islamic State took over the area in 2015 and destroyed some of Palmyra's famous ruins).
The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Firstly may I ask when you bore arms for the first time against the insurgents?
A: I was working in Lebanon at the time I was wanted for the army in 2014. I came from Lebanon to Palmyra to hand myself over. There were guys who told me about the Local Defence. And I went and registered a contract and did a course of 20 days in Hama. That was the first time I bore arms.
Q: And the first formation you joined within the Local Defence was the 313 Force [see here for more information]?
A: No. The first formation was in Palmyra in the airport.
Q: I see, and affiliated with the Local Defence.
Q: Who was responsible for your training firstly within the Local Defence?
A: There were trainers in Hama: 47.
Q: Yes I have known them: the friends.
Q: Brigade 47 [a military base in Hama used by the asdiqa']
A: Brigade 47 yes.
Q: In which battles did you participate?
A: The first battle was the one that was around al-Sukhna [locality to the northeast of Palmyra]: there were attacks occurring. We were stationed holding ground but we did not have strong skill because we were new guys. The second battle was the one in Palmyra at the time it fell. Many martyrs died and we withdrew to Sham [Damascus], an area called Haran al-Awamid.
Q: And after Palmyra fell you joined the 313 Force?
A: No. We went to an area near Damascus airport called al-Ghasula. I remained there for a year in a battalion called 104. We went to Sham countryside [Damascus countryside] on assignments. And we went to Quneitra. There I was wounded with a grenade. I remained in recovery for two years. When I began to walk I returned to work and came to the 313 Battalion.
Q: The 104 Battalion is affiliated with the Local Defence?
A: Yes. The Hadrat Abbas Brigade has in it two battalions: 313 and 104. And an equipment battalion.
Q: And in which battles did you participate within the 313 Force?
A: Albukamal [in eastern Deir az-Zor on the border with Iraq].
Q: And after that you left the 313 Force?
A: There has been a transfer to Hajj Asghar [an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer involved in the Local Defence] in Hama and I have transferred to him.
Q: So you were assigned to the Local Defence in Hama by order from the leadership.
A: When we first went to Hajj Asghar it was on the grounds that they told us it was a transfer. But now they are saying it is an assignment with Hajj Asghar for 6 months and [then] we will return to the Local Defence in Sham.
Q: How do you assess the current situation in Syria today? I mean from the military aspect for example.
A: The Syrian Army would have lost a lot were it not for the help of the friends, and praise be to God it has recovered more than 80% of Syria and praise be to God the force of the Syrian Army has returned.
Q: Of course there has been much talk about the withdrawal of the Americans from Syria. What do you think of this talk? For example it is said now that the Americans will remain for the oil in Syria?
A: The Americans were going to withdraw but because the Iranian friends entered Raqqa, Ain Arab and Hasakah, the Americans came back after they announced the withdrawal of their soldiers.
Q: Do you have a message for the Kurds in particular amid the Turkish attack on them?
A: The Kurds were protected by America and it was not allowed for the Syrian army to enter their areas. What have the Americans done for them? And the Kurds have been forced to work with the Syrian Army: in most areas they are fighting with the Syrian Army.