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UK-Based Monitor: More Than Half of 'Syrian Rebels' Are Foreigners

Foreign fighters dominate rebel casualty rolls according to the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

End of year means one thing. The "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights", an anti-Assad activist network originally set up in 2006, updates its casualty figures for the Syrian civil war.

According to SOHR's updated figures from January 1st 2015 through December 31st 2016 the conflict in Syria cost the lives of:

  • 13,607 civilians (according to SOHR the vast majority killed by the Syrian military)
  • 12,886 Syrian soldiers and pro-government militiamen
  • 2,306 foreign pro-government fighters


  • 8,130 Syrian opposition fighters (by which SOHR means all rebels including ISIS)
  • 13,297 foreign fighters with the opposition

One may wonder how SOHR is able to gather such precise numbers. Despite the thick fog of war over Syria made worse by the competing propaganda campaigns of the various sides every single number that SOHR provides is given down to a single digit.

In fact SOHR is even able to provide a detailed breakdown of civilian deaths between men, women and children. Apparently 2885 children were killed in the timeframe, of which 384 by rebels and 129 by ISIS, the rest overwhelmingly by the Syrian army. There are no known civilians deaths according to SOHR of whom the age or gender can not be established.

Nonetheless despite being able of such amazing feats SOHR can not provide separate casualty tallies for the various parts of opposition which are actually at war with each other as much as with the government. Thus ISIS dead is "counted" with the dead of the rest of the rebellion and one presumes with the dead of the Kurdish-dominated SDF.

However, despite not being able to give a break down between the various parts of the opposition , SOHR is able to breakdown both pro-government and opposition dead between Syrians and non-Syrians down to the last digit.

Sadly this has me suspecting that anyone who puts any stock in SOHR's numbers is being quite foolish (nonetheless they are often quoted simply because they are among the only numbers being given by anyone at all).

However, I think there is one reason why they are nonetheless worth reporting on. The significant thing about them is that they reveal that an outfit which was founded in opposition to the Syrian government and which harbors no love for Assad whatsoever, is nonetheless saying that just a fraction of the forces fighting for him are made up of foreigners, whereas the majority of the manpower of the opposition comes from abroad.

SOHR's numbers would indicate that about 15 percent of the foot soldiers on the government side are foreigner volunteers, but over 60 (!) percent on the rebel side. I would take these portions with a very big grain of salt but there is no doubt that the Islamists rebels rely on foreign manpower to a far greater extent than the pro-government camp. 

(A big chunk of the "foreign" manpower consists of Iraqis in the ranks of ISIS since the Syrian-Iraqi border means nothing to the Caliphate, but the rest of the Islamist rebellion is also highly international.)

Incidentally in Iraq where US occupation faced a largely home-grown insurgency US falsely insisted for years that foreign fighters made a huge number of the opposing forces. In Syria where that is actually true, the US has however opted to back many of these groups and to demonize the Syrian government fighting them.

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