BY MIA BABIKYAN, ALEKSANDAR STOYANOV
To paraphrase Voltaire, the Syrian civil war is no longer Syrian or civil anymore, but it is a war.
Soldiers and mercenaries from all around the world are fighting in Syria, and several countries are heavily involved in the ongoing conflict to this date. Leaving France and the United Kingdom aside, which take part with limited scale contingents, there are several major global and regional powers spending millions every day to keep their troops on the ground.
Iran has the largest military contingent consisting of both wide range militias and military units
In addition to the Revolutionary Guard units, Iran has vast numbers of subordinate and directly funded militias made up of volunteers from across the Middle East, estimated at between 60,000 and 120,000 people, according to various sources, with the latter figure being far more feasible. In addition, over 100,000 fighters from the so-called Hashd al-Shaabi must also be considered as part of the equation. Hashd al-Shaabi are operating in Iraq as part of the campaign against the Islamic State.
No different than the US involvement, Iran’s presence in Syria and Iraq should not be seen as two separate operations, but rather as one major campaign.
Following Iran, the United States is the second largest player operating on the ground in Syria and Iraq
The total number of US troops in Syria and Iraq is about 7,500-10,000 people, of which approximately 2500 are based in Syria. Additionally, there are potentially as many mercenary units principally based in Iraq. The United States also helps financially the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose weapons and ammunition are entirely dependent on Washington’s goodwill.
Russia is the next major investor in military assets after the United States
Russia spends considerable amounts on the maintenance of its aircraft engaged in daily bombing, as well as in providing the Syrian army and air force with equipment and ammunition. Russia also needs to finance its own on the ground contingent – approximately 7,000 soldiers, military police, as well as at least 5,000 mercenaries, mainly from the Wagner Group, but also from smaller mercenary companies such as E.N.O.T. Corp.
Finally, in the war in Syria, Turkey is also engaged with a large contingent
Although Ankara prefers to operate through its proxy rebel units as evident from „Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” operations, it still has a large number of garrisons in northwestern Syria, most noticeably in the Idlib and northern Aleppo provinces. The total Turkish forces involved are estimated at between 4,000 and 8,000.
So far, the United States has spent nearly $890 billion on the wars in Iraq (from 2003 onwards) and Syria (from 2014 to date). According to the 2019 budget voted in August 2018, the US will spend $14.5 billion on operations in Syria and Iraq – nearly $40 million a day. In comparison to 2016, the spending is four times in size, when the US was spending approximately $10 million a day.
According to Radio Free Europe, in 2018 Russia spent around 240 billion rubles (or $3.9 billion) in Syria. This is a daily expenditure of around $10.5 million – significantly higher than the one in 2015, when Russia’s spending was estimated at about $4 million per day; considering that Russia has not increased the ground contingent significantly. Based on the steady increase in spending each year, in 2019 the Kremlin is investing at least $11 million a day.
In 2018, Tehran spent around $16 billion in aid to the Assad regime – in bank transfers using Austrian and Italian banks, loans, purchase of products at preferential prices, etc. About $2 billion (1/8) were allocated for military spending in Syria – approximately $5.5 million a day. During the fiscal year of 2019 (March 2019 – March 2020), Tehran has been forced to cut its defense spending by about 28% compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, the Iranian military still has various alternative financing sources related to the control of certain parts of the civilian economy. However, sanctions imposed by the US will undoubtedly have a great impact on Iran’s financial capabilities in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey faced an unprecedented increase in its defense budget by more than 24% from 2018 to 2019. In total, state expenditure accounts for over $19 billion, and current annual costs are at about $22 billion. Like Iran, Turkey not only spends money on its army, but constantly invests in civilian projects, road construction, other infrastructure projects, and the maintenance of its allied local militias. In addition, approximately $37 billion have been spent to support over 3,500,000 Syrian refugees living in its territory. According to estimates by Turkish media sources, the cost of the operation in Syria accounts for a significant expenditure, at several billion dollars a year. It is likely the amount spent is not very different from that spent by Iran, especially when taking into consideration the refugee support.