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23rd Division (Syrian rebel group)

The 16th Infantry Division (Arabic: الفرقة 16 مشاة‎) was a Syrian rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. Formed in September 2013, the group was active mainly in the city Aleppo and its surroundings. After rebel lines in Aleppo collapsed due to advances by the Syrian Army during the Battle of Aleppo in mid-2016, the 16th Division suffered heavy casualties and was dissolved. Remnants of the group then formed the 23rd Division (Arabic: الفرقة 23‎).[12]

23rd Division
Arabic: الفرقة 23
Participant in the Syrian Civil War
Fighters of the 23rd Division, led by Col. Abu Mustafa, during the Turkish military operation in Afrin in February 2018. The group's flag can be seen in the background.
Fighters of the 23rd Division, led by Col. Abu Mustafa, during the Turkish military operation in Afrin in February 2018. The group's flag can be seen in the background.
Active19 September 2013 – 25 July 2016 (as the 16th Division)
July 2016 – present (as the 23rd Division)
IdeologyIslamic democracy
  • Badr Martyrs' Brigade[1]
  • Descendents of Omar Battalions[2]
  • Lions of the Revolution Brigade
  • Mustafa Martyrs Brigade
  • Hawks of Islam Battalions


  • Colonel Hassan Rajoub (Abu Omar, since July 2016)[4]
  • Col. Abu Mustafa[5]
  • Abu al-Joud al-Homsi[6]


  • Col. Suleyman Shalal[7]
  • Khaled Saraj ("Khaled Hayani")  (2013–15)[1][8]
  • Abdul Khaliq Lahyani (resigned in July 2016)[4]
HeadquartersKhalidiya District, Aleppo (2013–16)
Qah, Idlib Governorate (2016–18)[9]
Area of operationsAleppo Governorate and northern Idlib Governorate, Syria
Size+1,600 (own claim in 2014)[1]
Part of Fatah Halab (2015–16)
Battles and war(s)Syrian Civil War


16th DivisionEdit

Col. Hassan Rajoub, leader of 23rd Division, during the Turkish military operation in Afrin in March 2018.

The 16th Division was formed on 19 September 2013 as a merger of 10 rebel groups in the city of Aleppo.[2] One of its subgroups, the Badr Martyrs' Brigade, was infamous for robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and most notably mass looting of factories in Aleppo districts and shipping truckloads of looted items to Turkey.[13]

In October 2013, the 16th Division's territory in northern Aleppo was overran by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[13] During the ISIL offensive, ISIL fighters captured a 16th Division base and found a large quantity of gold, cash in the form of United States dollars, hashish, and gas cylinders used in the production of hell cannons used by the group.[14] In November 2013, in response to the "aggression" on their "brothers" of ISIL by the 16th Division, the al-Aqsa Brigade defected from the 16th Division.[3]

In January 2015, the al-Nusra Front captured 11 fighters from the 16th Division in Aleppo during the former's conflict with the Hazzm Movement.[15] In response, the 16th Division called for the unconditional release of its fighters.[16]

On 7 December 2015, the 16th Division and the Knights of Justice Brigade conducted a joint bombing of the Syrian government defence laboratory in the central Khalidiya district of Aleppo.[17]

Since November 2015, the group took part in the indiscriminate shelling of Sheikh Maqsoud, which killed dozens of civilians and sparked a retaliation from the People's Protection Units (YPG), which killed several of its members in April 2016.[18]

During the northern Aleppo offensive (June-July 2016), the 16th Division suffered heavy casulties, including 29 killed, more than 54 wounded, and 7 missing, its headquarter overran, and its commanders, including the top leader, Abdul Khaliq Lahyani, resigned and was relieved of all duties. A new commander, former Syrian Air Force Colonel Hassan Rajoub, was appointed.[4] Subsequently, the group went defunct.[19][20]

23rd DivisionEdit

23rd Division fighters during the Turkish military operation in Afrin in February 2018.

Following the 16th Division's dissolution in July 2016, remnants of the group, led by Col. Hassan Rajoub, regrouped and formed the 23rd Division.[12][21]

Since January 2018, the group have participated in the Turkish military operation in Afrin against the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the Afrin Region.[5] On 28 February, Tahrir al-Sham besieged the headquarters of the 23rd Division in the village of Qah in the northern Idlib Governorate. After less than an hour of clashes, Tahrir al-Sham fighters captured the headquarter and seized equipment and weapons.[9]

In May 2018, along with 10 other rebel groups in northwestern Syria, the 23rd Division formed the National Front for Liberation, which was officially announced on 28 May.[10]

War crimesEdit

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the 16th Division's Badr Martyrs Brigade, led by Khaled Hayani, was responsible for the deaths of more than 203 civilians, including 42 children, at least 25 women, and 136 men, with more than 900 wounded, 175 of them seriously, in the city of Aleppo between July and December 2014 with hell cannons and other mortars, in addition to improvised explosive devices.[22]


  1. ^ a b c "Exclusive interview: FREE SYRIAN ARMY COMMANDER Abdulkhalek Hayani" (PDF). RFS Media Office. October 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Press agency Shahba: the formation of the band 16 in the northern countryside in Aleppo". Shahba Press Agency. 19 September 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Al - Aqsa Brigade announces its withdrawal from the "band 16" in Aleppo because of the absence of regulation and the presence of offenders". Aksalser. 14 November 2013.
  4. ^ a b c ""Band 16" infantry appoints new commander in Aleppo". Enab Baladi. 25 July 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "We raised Combat readiness south-west of Afrin, Commander of 23rd Division military operations says". Syria Call. 22 January 2018.
  6. ^ ""BAND 23" CAPTURES 10 ELEMENTS OF THE SYSTEM AND KILLS THREE SUBURBS OF ALEPPO". Baladi News Network. 13 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Formation (band 16) in Aleppo: Colonel "waterfall" vows liberation of Aleppo". Orient News. 19 September 2013.
  8. ^ "FSA mourns senior commander killed in Aleppo". Zamanalwsl. 2 May 2015.
  9. ^ a b c ""Liberation Sham" attacking the headquarters of the band 23 in the northern countryside of Idlib and controlled". Shaam News Network. 28 February 2018.
  10. ^ a b "11 FSA Factions in New Command in of "National Front Liberation"". Syria Call. 28 May 2018.
  11. ^ Syria’s moderate opposition? Archived 2016-10-05 at the Wayback Machine The Week
  12. ^ a b "Aleppo: Opposition to counter attacks by the regime .. And regain the sponsor of the "da'ash"". Al-Modon. 18 August 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Islamic militia expels criminal gangs from Aleppo". Al-Monitor. 11 November 2013.
  14. ^ ""State" published pictures of Massadaratha from the headquarters of the "martyrs of Badr" and the band 16 vows". Zaman al-Wasl. 1 November 2013.
  15. ^ "Syria battle between al Qaeda and Western-backed group spreads". Reuters. 30 January 2015.
  16. ^ Shirin Dawood (31 January 2015). "16 Infantry Division in the Free Syrian Army calls Front victory for the release of 11 detainees". Rudaw.
  17. ^ "Factions in the army free to merge under the name of "Northern Division"". Enab Baladi. 8 December 2015.
  18. ^ "YPG: 36 gang members killed in Sheikh Maqsoud". ANF English. 6 April 2016.
  19. ^ "16th Division spokesman: causes for our withdrawal from Aleppo". Baladi News. 30 July 2016.
  20. ^ "Rebel group on the verge of total collapse in Aleppo". Al-Masdar News. 25 July 2016.
  21. ^ Cody Roche (29 April 2017). "Factions Fighting in the Syrian Civil War". Bellingcat. Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2018-03-05. 16th Infantry Division re-brand as Division 23
  22. ^ "Khaled Hyani shells killed and wounded no less than 900 civilians in 162 days". SOHR. 12 December 2014.