Suheil Salman al-Hassan (Arabic: سهيل الحسن) (born 10 June 1970), nicknamed The Tiger, is a Brigadier General in the Syrian Army, currently serving as commander of its elite Tiger Forces. He graduated from the Syrian Arab Air Force academy in 1991, and served in many units of the Syrian Arab Air Forces and Air Defence Command, completing several training courses. After serving in the Syrian Arab Air Force and Syrian Arab Air Defence units, he joined the Air Force Intelligence service, where he was responsible for the training of the elements of the Special Operations Section. During the Syrian Civil War, Suheil al-Hassan has served and commanded his troops during several major engagements, including Operation Canopus Star and the battle for the Shaer gas field. He is part of the new generation of field Syrian army commanders who emerged during the civil war. French newspaper Le Monde has claimed he could be a rival to Assad as leader of Syria.
Suheil Salman al-Hassan
|Other name(s)||"The Tiger" (النمر al-Nimr)|
|Born||10 June 1970 (age 49)|
Beit Ana, Jableh, Latakia, Syria
|Years of service||1991–present|
|Awards||Order of Civil Merit |
Order of Bravery
Order of Friendship (Russia)
al-Hassan was described by analysts as preferring Russia (as opposed to Iran) to serve as the Syrian Government's main ally during the Syrian Civil War and subsequent post-war reconstruction. His position is contrasted by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and head of Syria's Republican Guard and 4th Armoured Division, who is reported as preferring Iran.
Hassan is an Alawite. He is said to have a son that he has not seen since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Hassan's first major media appearance was a spring 2014 video filmed and posted online by the pro-government Sama TV, showing Hassan visiting troops at the front in Aleppo. He is known for liking poetry, even broadcasting his own poems over to the loudspeaker at his enemies, as a warning of what will come if they do not surrender. He says that he always tries to give a chance to his enemies to give up and surrender, but has no pity if they do not or if they betray him.
Hassan refused a promotion to become brigadier general in order to continue to lead his troops directly on the battlefield. His battle tactics have been described as utilizing a scorched earth policy followed by assaulting opposition positions with house to house raids. A Syrian military source claimed Hassan had "never lost any battles" with Syrian opposition forces, yet the Second Siege of Wadi Deif was seen as a personal defeat for Hassan, while the Tiger forces under Hassan's command failed to break opposition force's lines when dispatched to Idlib to counter opposition offensives in 2015.
On 25 December 2015, Colonel Suheil al-Hassan was allegedly promoted to Brigadier general, though Hassan's rank is disputed.
Career before the Syrian Civil War
In 1991, Suheil al-Hassan was graduated with the rank of Lieutenant from the Homs Military College. He was quickly inducted into the Syrian Air Force Defense’s Special Operations Unit, where he would oversee the training and development of Syria’s paratrooper contingents of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Impressed with Hassan's work ethic and effectiveness, the Syrian Arab Army’s Central Command transferred him to the Syrian Air Force Intelligence headquarters; this coincided with the rise of Al-Qaeda activity from 2005–2006. Known to be relentless and prudent, Colonel Hassan infiltrated Al-Qaeda networks inside Syria, resulting in the arrest of a number of its members operating within the borders of the country. In 2011, Colonel Hassan was transferred to the SAA’s Special Forces (Qawat Al-Khassa), leading the front against Al-Qaeda in Syria—the Al-Nusra Front—on the outskirts of Latakia in 2013. His success led many in the Central Command to recommend his transfer to other fronts. He later spent his time in Hama until he was tasked with a special project by the Central Command in the fall of 2013—to train and lead a Special Forces unit that would work primarily as an offensive unit. Colonel Hassan handpicked many of the soldiers that would later form the Tiger Forces; this included his close confidant and companion, Captain Lu’ayy Al-Sleitan.
During the Syrian Civil War
Ariha Battle (August 2013)
In August 2013, the strategically important city of Ariha in Idlib governorate fell to the rebels. Suheil al-Hassan led the counterattack on the town. The battle lasted 10 days, and the Syrian army, backed up by heavy airstrikes, managed to retake control of the town, expelling the rebels.
Aleppo campaign (September 2013 – July 2014)
On 26 August 2013, rebels captured the strategic town of Khanasir, cutting the government's last land supply route, passing through the desert, to the contested city of Aleppo. Suheil al-Hassan was tasked to reopen the road, and left from Hama leading a big military convoy, in order to achieve this goal. On 3 October, after a week-long battle, the Syrian army took back the control of Khanasir. One week later and after more than 40 villages captured, the siege of Aleppo by the rebels was broken. By this point, Suheil al-Hassan forces had advanced 250 km into rebel lines to lift the siege of the city.
After, solidifying control around Aleppo airport by taking Base 80 and Naqqarin at the end of 2013, al-Hassan and his troops pushed north toward the industrial city.
The Aleppo industrial city, named Sheikh Najjar, is a huge industrial complex located north of Aleppo. It was the most heavily fortified position of the rebels during the war, with miles of tunnels and rebels weapons factories. The battle lasted from January 2014 and ended 4 July with the complete takeover of the industrial city by the Syrian Army.
On 22 May 2014, the Syrian troops led by al-Hassan, managed to relieve the Aleppo central prison, which was besieged and attacked relentlessly by rebels and jihadists fighters for more than one year. It was a symbolic victory for the Syrian army, and allowed the Syrian troops to close another supply road used by the rebels in Aleppo, who were besieging Aleppo in the summer of 2013, and were in position to be besieged in eastern Aleppo at the end of 2014.
Opposition forces claim that when they attempted to negotiate the return of Iranian-sponsored Afghan fighters that were captured during the battle, Hassan responded "Do what you want with them. You can kill them, they're just mercenaries. We can send you thousands of them."
Hama campaign (July 2014 – October 2014)
In July 2014, Al-Qaeda Syrian branch, al-Nusra Front, launched a big offensive, personally led by their supreme leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, in the north of Hama Governorate, threatening both Hama city and the Hama Military Airport, as well as the Christian city of Mhardeh. The situation was difficult for the Syrian army and colonel al-Hassan was assigned the task of leading all the military operations in the governorate to counter the al-Nusra threat. Observers were judging the mission to be very difficult, given the high numbers of Al Nusra and rebels forces committed to the battle and the fact that a lot of Hassan forces were still on the Aleppo front. Hassan arrived in Hama governorate at the end of August with some of his elite troops who made an immediate impact. The Syrian troops quickly took control of Arzah, Khittab and its base, and ended the jihadist attack on Mhardeh. The counterattack gained momentum and eventually reversed all rebels gains, including Helfaya in less than one month.
The army continued its offensive, entering previously held rebel territory, putting under heavy pressure rebel strongholds of Lataminah and Kafr Zita, and retaking the strategic towns of Morek, where Syrian army had failed to dislodge rebels during 10 months.
Homs desert and Shaer gas field (November 2014 – March 2015)
In early November 2014, he took part in the operation to retake the gas field seized at the end of the previous month by the jihadists of the Islamic State.
Idlib (April 2015 – June 2015)
In late April 2015, he was at the front lines in Idlib Governorate fighting against a massive rebel assault on Jisr al-Shughur. A video surfaced of him making a dire call to the Syrian Defence Minister for supplies saying that he has 800 men and they need ammunition immediately, he says they can return (to the fight, presumably) but they need ammunition. Col. Jemiel Radoon of the Falcons of al-Ghab, a Free Syrian Army battalion that made attempts to block Hassan's retreat from Idlib, stated regarding the video: “I know him. He was rattled. He’d lost his composure”.
Breaking the siege of Kuweires airport (October 2015 – November 2015)
The Kuweires military airport located in east Aleppo countryside was besieged first by rebels groups in 2013 and then by the Islamic State following their capture of rebel territory east of Aleppo in 2014. The Syrian soldiers holed up inside repelled several attempts by the Islamic state to take the base. The Syrian army started a military operation in September 2015 retaking some positions near Kweires. By mid-October, Suheil al-Hassan and his Tiger forces started to advance on Kweires seizing villages after villages toward Kuweires. ISIS attacked and cut the main road between Aleppo and Hama during two weeks and launched an attack on the strategic city of al-Safirah in attempt to divert the army but was repelled. The siege was finally broken on 11 November after nearly a one-month offensive to close the 10 km gap between the army position and the airbase. President Bashar Al-Assad personally congratulated Suheil al-Hassan on his role in breaking the siege on the air-base.
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The colonel, estimated to be in his early fifties
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These reinforcements, spearheaded by the renowned loyalist Tiger Forces, made some initial gains around the town of mastouma south of Idlib but did not succeed in breaking the rebel lines.
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A rebel commander from Aleppo, who is leading negotiations for six other Afghans, at least managed to reach one of the most powerful Syrian officers on the telephone: Colonel Suhail al-Hassan, called Nimr, or tiger, by his supporters. The colonel's answer was succinct: "Do what you want with them. You can kill them, they're just mercenaries. We can send you thousands of them."
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The videos of Hassan begging for help – there are two versions of the scene that have been seen 82,000 times – are being viewed with delight and satisfaction among opponents of the Assad regime. “I know him. He was rattled. He’d lost his composure” said Col. Jemiel Radoon, a U.S.-backed moderate rebel commander.
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One of the guards of the Colonel Sohil al-Hassan known as al-Nemr (the Tiger) died of wounds due to shooting him by a sniper earlier.
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