Have the Syrian military really remained ‘loyal’ to the regime as so many have suggested?
Our author Tom Cooper examines his motivations for writing Middle East@ War 1. Syrian Conflagration: The Syrian Civil War, 2011-13 due out in November.
One could say that it all began when I was a very, very young boy. My uncle was a big fan of modern combat aircraft and assembling plastic kits of these in large numbers. Alarmed by the rapid growth of his nephew, he made me an offer. I would be granted permission to play with his models the moment I managed to recognise the type and nationality of four jet fighters on a grainy little photo published in the newspaper. Surprising everybody (except my mother of course), I became so eager, I quickly learned to read and write.
As soon as I overcame this ‘obstacle’, it took me just a few weeks to find out that the aircraft in question were McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs of the (then) Imperial Iranian Air Force. Concerned my inept hands would break the result of thousands of hours of his hard work, my uncle never fulfilled his promise. Neither of us was aware of what far-reaching consequences his challenge was to have…
Meanwhile, I was drawing Phantom IIs from all possible aspects and in all imaginable camouflage colours or markings. When that became ‘boring’, I began assembling plastic kits. In need of suitable opponents for them, I began constructing plastic kits of MiGs too. That proved to be a particularly interesting challenge on its own. MiGs that were ‘only’ decorated with the Soviet Red Star were also ‘boring’. I wanted to build those deployed in ‘real combat’. It turned out there were next to no reliable reference publications about the look of MiGs flown by (for example) Egyptians or Syrians. Little did I know how long it would take to find out all the details, or how far would I have to go…
To some consternation of my parents, I spent much of my teenage years with often obsessive research. I became curious in not only finding out about camouflage colours and markings but also in who was flying ‘those MiGs’ and why they were wearing specific markings (or none at all). Then I wanted to find out how these aircraft and their armament actually functioned; how they performed in combat (particularly in comparison to various Western models); and if the usual reports about the fate of so many air forces flying MiGs were true.
My trips to the Middle East and friendships with people from local countries helped a lot. By the time the movie Top Gun caused thousands from my generation to apply to fly fighter jets (ironically, years later I was to meet two Syrians that joined the Syrian Arab Air Force for exactly the same reason), I was already ‘in the picture’ about many Middle Eastern air forces. Gradually, this hobby turned into a profession; trying to find answers to questions like who, when, where, why and how – first, in relation to specific air combats, and later on, in relation to entire wars.
This is the essence of the story that led to the publication of the ‘Arab MiGs’ series of books – an illustrated encyclopaedia of Arab air forces at war with Israel throughout 1955-1973; six volumes of which were printed in the last seven years. Researching about the history of these air forces resulted in me collecting an immense wealth of information about present-day services too.
The book Syrian Conflagration therefore came into being as an ‘off-shoot’ of my research about Arab air forces. Its essence is: finding out as many answers to questions like who, when, where, why and how in regards to military operations in the course of the Syrian Civil War. I wanted to analyse a huge amount of information about the background for Syrian military build-up; about ‘how comes’ of the entire Syrian military; and if the Syrian military really remained ‘loyal’ to the regime as so many have suggested. Who are the insurgents fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad? Are they “Al-Qaeda fanatics” as usually described by our media? Finally, I wanted to find out what kind of combat operations took place.
Syrian Conflagration spans the period from March 2011 until late 2013 and early 2014; the times while this ugly and merciless war was still relatively ‘limited’ (at least in so far that the majority of combatants were Syrian nationals). However, this conflict was already ‘internationalised’ by 2013, and here it was a particularly interesting – perhaps an ‘unusual experience’ – to be able to work with the help of sources from multiple involved parties. Of those not killed or imprisoned by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, some of my Syrian contacts have meanwhile joined the insurgency. A few are fighting on the Government’s side. Because of my earlier research about Iranian and Iraqi air forces (about which I’ve published several books and dozens of articles) I was able to reach back to local sources too. It’s almost unnecessary to observe that they have provided some unique insights into specific battles of the Syrian Civil War.
As is usually the case when working on projects of this kind, I have attempted to organise and break-down important data in easy-to-follow fashion, supported by tables; then to gradually develop the story of military build-up before the conflict; and finally, to discuss the war in chronological order. I added as much information from first-hand sources as possible in order to provide their views instead of insights provided by (for example) the media.
Syrian Conflagration is the first volume ever to offer a single-point-of-reference about Syrian military since the 1980s, and the war as fought in the period 2011 to 2013. Furthermore, it provides plenty of entirely new details and insights too. Of course, it is not a ‘definitive’ history of the first phase of this conflict. Sadly, the Syrian Civil War is not only still going on but is likely to last for much longer. Military history is performing in a similar fashion with the further development of military technology. Research and development never end.
Overall, I hope this book will prove to be a good starting point for additional research by other professionals; also a basic source of reference for casually interested readers. However, I foremost hope that it might help not only improve understanding of the Syrian Civil War, but improve understanding between so many different people populating this spacecraft we call Earth too.