Suqur al-Sahara' ('The Desert Hawks') emerged in the earlier years of the war in Syria as one of the most prominent auxiliary formations for the Syrian army. Led by Muhammad Jaber, the group fought on many fronts but no longer exists as a separate entity. Instead its forces have largely been incorporated into the Russian-backed V Corps.
To learn more about the history of Suqur al-Sahara', I interviewed a person who served as one of the field commanders in Suqur al-Sahara'. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: When were the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' established and what was their origin exactly? Why were they formed when there were multiple military formations on the ground in addition to the Syrian Arab Army?
A: The forces of Suqur al-Sahara' were established at the end of 2012, and their foundational assignment was to protect the oil transportations that were coming from Iraq towards the Syrian lands through the Syrian badiya [desert area] extending from the al-Tanf border crossing towards Homs refinery. And a portion of them aided the Badiya branch [of military intelligence] in Palmyra to resist the many attacks that the Da'esh [Islamic State] organisation undertook against the business convoys and on the historic city of Palmyra. And in April 2014, the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' participated in the first combat operation entrusted to them by routing the armed organisations from the area of Kassab that borders Turkey: this battle was considered among the most difficult of battles that faced the forces of the Syrian Arab Army because of the difficulty of the mountainous terrain in the area.
The formation is considered in its predominant components to have been composed of civilian personnel who possess the expert skills and competencies that result from training in the Syrian Arab Army. The formation also included a number of officers delegated for the interest of the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' in order to deal with the general staff of the Syrian Arab Army and to communicate in an official sense.
Q: In which battles did the Suqur participate and what was the number of martyrs? What are the most important accomplishments and heroisms of the Suqur in military work?
A: Suqur al-Sahara' has 46 victories and liberations of areas to its name. Of course all of them were noted under the banner of the Syrian Arab Army: faction of the forces of Suqur al-Sahara'. The forces of Suqur al-Sahara' participated in the battles of the Syrian badiya, Palmyra, Hama, all the mountains of Latakia, Kassab, the liberation of besieged Aleppo, in addition to the battle of Raqqa in 2016 when they arrived at the borders of al-Tabqa airport, in which battle I was wounded with a tank projectile. And also they participated in the operation to evacuate the civilians in Idlib city and Jisr al-Shughur before their occupation.
From the beginning of the formation at the end of 2012 until April 2014 the assignment entrusted to Suqur al-Sahara' was the protection of the business convoys coming from Iraq and supporting the Badiya branch in resisting the attacks of the Dawa'esh on the international highway for al-Tanf crossing. And in 2014 it participated in the grinding battle of Kassab that extended for 2 months until the time of its liberation. And then began the reconstituting of the framework of the forces and establishment of organised fighting contingents with intense training for the assault forces (infantry) and establishing a powerful fire base to support the assault forces, with the inclusion of contingents for machine guns, anti-armoured vehicles, artillery, tanks and mortars.
The first operation after this new framework was liberating the village of Bayt Khadour in the depth of the mountains of Latakia, 9 kilometres in a record time of two hours. And after it was handed over to the contingents of the special forces, the area fell again in the hand of the insurgents. They participated in the battle of Salanfah, Qummat al-Nabi Yunis towards Kataf al-Ghadr and al-Anmah, and al-Talal al-Khamsa. After a month of battles, the initiative failed as a result of lack of support with the required information. But then it returned to participate in the first battle towards the key to victories in the most difficult of areas: the village of Ghamam on the coastal Syrian mountain range. And from here began the series of victories of the Syrian coast as the village of Ghamam was followed by the village of al-Daghmashliyah, and after that were liberated Dhu mountain and Mousa mountain and al-Daghmashliyah mountain: this became a fire base towards al-Nubah mountain and Burj al-Qasab mountain. al-Nubah mountain was the key to liberating the touristic town of Salma, and Burj al-Qasab was the key to liberating the area of Rabi'a.
After suspension for a period of two months because of the rainy weather circumstances, the forces participated in three assaults on al-Nubah mountain until it fell under the control of the Suqur. And from there was cleansing of the path to reach the village of al-Maruniyat, and after that was the turn to the area of Jubb al-Ahmar and al-Talal al-Khamsa, and from there to Jabb al-Ghar. And it returned to participated in the direction of Burj al-Qasab to reach the Rabi'a area and there was liberation all the way up to the strategic Baradoun dam on the Aleppo route. And it returned to the Salanfah area after the town of Salma was besieged entirely such that it fell with minimal losses, and after that the forces continued to advance to reach the al-Rous mountains and the village of Ta'ouma, facing the village of Kanasba, until Kanasba was liberated entirely, such that the borders came under the fire of the forces of the friends. The Turkish borders became exposed entirely, reaching all the way to the village of Badama, and Hassan al-Ra'i mountain remained under the control of the insurgents.
Then the forces were asked to head to the Ithiriya intersection, the line connecting between Homs and Aleppo and in the direction of Raqqa, the sole artery for the city of Aleppo. And after preparation, the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' entered towards the al-Risafa intersection and the al-Thawra field all the way to the borders of al-Tabqa airport. 65 km were liberated on the main route, but the lack of support led to complete withdrawal and returning to the Ithiriya intersection 22 days after the liberation from the month of June 2016. Kanasba fell into the hands of the insurgents, so the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' returned to reactivate the battle in Kanasba, and it was liberated again in a very short time because the forces had become experts in the terrain of the area. And the forces returned towards Jubb al-Ghar to liberate the last portion of the Latakia mountains, and that is the village of Kibbanah. And here was the most difficult of areas. We participated in very grinding and difficult battles there, and we lost in it many of the martyrs. The forces of the Suqur participated in 26 grinding battles in the village of Kibbanah, and all of them resulted in failure on account of the difficulty of controlling he area, because it is the key to victories towards Jisr al-Shughur and the al-Ghab plain and the city of Idlib. And most of the insurgents present in it are not Syrians or armed factions: 90% of them are Turkistanis and Uyghur fighters, with direct Turkish support in the fire support for them.
And in the middle of the tenth month [of 2016], Suqur al-Sahara' was requested to head to Aleppo to participate in the liberation of besieged Aleppo within the city. And after heading out and before the beginning [of those operations], the armed gangs led by Muheisseni launched a wide-scale attack in the direction of the military academy and new Aleppo, so the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' resisted three very large attacks and liberated the Minyan area all the way to al-Buhuth al-'Ilmiya in Aleppo. And the forces returned to undertake the foundational work, and participated in the liberation of Tallat al-Shorta, Bruj al-Hamam and al-Sheikh Sa'id, all the way to al-Sukkari neighbourhood in Aleppo. So the agreement was made to evacuate the area of the insurgents by negotiation with the state and the Syrian army, and the military operations ended on 16 December 2016.
And no request was made for Suqur al-Sahara' to undertake any assignment until the beginning of the seventh month of 2017, as the forces headed to al-Sheikh Hilal area on the international route for Ithiriya towards Aleppo and Raqqa, so it participated in the liberation of the mountain of Shahad 9 and Shahad 10 overlooking the main route. And it participated in its last battle in the area of al-Salmiya in the direction of Aqarib in the village of Aqeiberat, and it liberated the village of Qalib al-Tour. And this was the last battle of Suqur al-Sahara'.
There was also participated in the battles to liberate Palmyra, and the battles to liberate Aqeiberat, the al-Sha'ar field, the al-Mahr field and the Hayyan field, in addition to the assistance that Fawj Maghawir al-Bahr provided to the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' because it was under the command of Dr. Ayman Jaber, the brother of the mujahid Muhammad Jaber.
The total number of martyrs for Suqur al-Sahara' is 933 martyrs. The number of permanent wounds from various cases of amputation and loss of parts of the body is 198 permanent wounds. Half of them suffer from cases of amputation.
Q: Who was responsible for the training of the Suqur and its organisation, arming and financing? And did the friends from the Russians and the Iranians help in training and financing etc.?
A: A great portion [of financial support] was on the shoulder of the mujahid Muhammad Jaber and a portion of the financing was coming through the Defence Ministry. Officers delegated from the Defence Ministry to work for the interest of the forces of Suqur al-Sahara' participated in the training. The entire arming was via the Syrian Defence Ministry. The aid that was offered to Suqur al-Sahara' [from the friends] was basically some ammunition, and exchange of joint intelligence information in the areas that required their presence near the joint areas of combat.