The war in Syria is currently in a particularly complex phase with conflicting reports of rebel progress. Jihadist militias are growing in strength and capability, making it probable that they will have considerable influence and even power in a post-Assad Syria. At the same time, there are indications that elements supporting the Assad regime, including the Iranian government, recognise this and are planning for the aftermath with their own militias.
In our August 2012 briefing (The Jihadist Element in Syria and its Implications), we analysed the Jihadist aspect of the Syrian civil war. We discussed the manner in which trained paramilitary cohorts in Afghanistan in the 1980s had formed part of the al-Qaida movement, and we then pointed to the parallel development in the period 2003-09 in Iraq, where young dedicated paramilitaries gained combat experience against the well-armed professional troops of the US Army and Marine Corps. Many went on to fight in Syria, and by early 2012, there were estimated to be a thousand paramilitary jihadists in the country. They were proving particularly effective, partly because of their dedication, but also because of the previous combat experience that many of them had already.