MEDirections is delighted to share a new Research Project Report from the Syria Transition Challenges Project, part of the Syria Initiative. This paper was originally published in English on the 1st of December 2020.
At its core, the patchwork ‘reconciliation’ strategy in southern Syria has demarcated three main zones in which the regime’s authority and therefore the roles former rebels come to play in the post-rebellion period vary significantly. In eastern Daraa, where the rebels engaged in Russian-led negotiations, Russia established the Eighth Brigade, a sub-division of the Fifth Corps, and incorporated contingents of former rebels into its ranks. To help maintain the status quo in southern Syria, Russia granted the Eighth Brigade and its rebels-turned-soldiers a wide margin of manoeuvre to handle local security affairs and to inflict acceptable monitored small-scale violence. While the Eighth Brigade has emerged as an armed actor with an indispensable military, security and intermediary role in the south, it remains mired in challenges that threaten to undermine its role and decrease its vitality. Based on access to a private archive of unpublished documents and interviews with civilians, former rebels and rebel leaders, and Eighth Brigade fighters and senior leaders, this paper provides an overview of the Eighth Brigade’s operations and identifies a range of interrelated challenges it has been facing over the course of more than two years in southern Syria.