890d.01/6–3045: Telegram

No. 638
The Minister in Lebanon ( Wadsworth ) to the Secretary of State ad interim


205. Following reply to Deptel 184, June 25,1 re Troupes Spéciales 2 is based on consultations with Leb and Syrian FonMins 3 and with Chief of Staff and Staff Intelligence Officer Ninth Army. Latter outlined present status of problem substantially as follows:

Careful check of actual numbers (previous higher Brit estimates having been based on French declared ration strength) shows that before May troubles Troupes Spéciales numbered very close to 20,000 with approx 5,000 stationed in Lebanon and 15,000 in Syria. Among Lebanese there have been practically no desertions, among Syrians some 5,500 and score of Syrian officers in Leb units have been permitted to resign.

Remaining 9,000 of Syrian units still under French officers but subject to close overall Brit control are concentrated roughly as follows: 3,500 in specially prepared camps in Leb[anon in El] Bekaa; 1,500 in Hassetche region Northeastern Syria; 1,500 at usual stations in Alaouite region; 1,000 confined to outlying barracks Aleppo; 1,000 at Yarfur camp near Damascus; 500 at Mezze Airport.

(Note: Of approx 2,000 regular French troops previously stationed in Syria approx 1,000 have been confined to camps in Bekaa and 300 returned to Tripoli base; 200 are confined to Aleppo barracks and 400 remain at stations in Alaouite region. Small HQ detachment remains in Damascus with Gen Gross for liaison service with Brit).

Brit mil authorities would welcome early orderly transfer of these remaining units to Syrian command their viewpoint being dictated primarily by general security considerations; elsewise disintegration thru further desertions would continue even French command having recently been brought to recognize this factor and having agreed to dismiss (without arms and equipment) those troops in north Syria requesting release.

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Syrian FonMin Mardam insisted problem must be settled urgently or new manifestations would result; transfer of Troupes Spéciales has always been considered independently from and prerequisite to political settlement; today it was unthinkable that these Syrian nationals be permitted longer to serve under French officers or French flag.

He saw no difficulty in their assimilation: Some 5,000 would be converted into Syrian Army of one brigade with auxiliary services; equal number would be taken into Gendarmerie; perhaps half of remaining third would be needed for police and frontier customs control; remainder would be pensioned off.

Mardam then mentioned armament and equipment aspect of problem especially if [in?] view of telegram recd from Syrian Min in Paris4 communicating report that Ostrorog (see Deptel 187, June 265) would propose the immediate transfer of half Troupes Spéciales and second half following reaching of agreement as to ownership of armament.

He said that total force numbering somewhat more than half present strength had been taken over by French Army with all armaments, munitions, equipment, and transport shortly following outbreak of war; previously all this (except certain artillery pieces) and all pay and upkeep expenses had been met by “common interests” budget; hence it was only fair that at least equal number should be returned fully equipped.

(Note: My despatch 307, March 1, 19445 shows that during 1928–39 annual average of 4,700,000 Syrian pounds, 46% of common interests budget, was spent on Troupes Spéciales).

Mardam then reiterated Chief Syrian Desiderata in following priority order: Transfer of Troupes Spéciales, withdrawal of French troops, then political settlement. For the latter he preferred International Conference; in any event Syria could not negotiate with French except within international framework.

Minister Sharabati joined us at this juncture. He has much influence among younger Extremist leaders. He and Mardam agreed that if orderly settlement of question be not found promptly Extremists, especially those in Aleppo region, would take direct action not only to induce mass desertions but to take over armament and equipment as well.

(Note: Carleton reports from Aleppo that situation there is politically tense practically “undeclared war” with open hostilities threatening; bombardment of Damascus has had same effect on Syrians as Pearl Harbor had on Americans).

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Leb FonMin took slightly different tack especially in view of return of Ostrorog whom he had declined to receive in his office but would see personally in his home. He seemed to believe that at least in case of Lebanon transfer of Troupes Spéciales might be negotiated within teamwork [framework?] of political issues involved. Referring to Brit Govt’s statement of June 23 [22]6 he argued that all Troupes Spéciales now depended juridically on Brit command.

Consequently he urged that Brit mil authorities arrange orderly transfer to Lebanese command of the 5,000 troops of Leb origin stationed in Lebanon. He envisaged that 3,000 would be converted into Leb Army and remainder assimilated into Gendarmerie and police.

Following additional aspects of security situation as it has developed since sending my 191, June 19,7 may also be of interest. Details are reported in Mil Att’s reports8 based largely on Ninth Army sources.

Brit mil authorities have taken over responsibility for desert control, Brit liaison officer exercises substantial authority over Druse units which rallied to Syrian cause. And several Brit officers have been detailed as “training team” to assist Syrian Gendarmerie.

In Aleppo where French barracks are at city edge there has been considerable firing chiefly at night for most part by French allegedly at Syrian deserters. On June 26 such firing appeared to Syrians to be directed intentionally at nearby home of Syrian Governor and grenades have since been thrown without serious effect at French Delegate’s home and automobile. Increased arms traffic from Turkey is reliably reported.

In Latakia region stationing of Brit detachments, change of Syrian Governor and effective Brit and Syrian approach to Murshid and other Alaouite chieftains have resulted in marked lessening of tension.

All but four easternmost of eleven northern frontier posts have under Brit protection been practically disbanded following desertions and clashes. Remaining Troupes Spéciales in this region are being concentrated.

Practically all French civilians have been evacuated from Syria except group of some 300 in protective internment at Aleppo. Group of 200 chiefly from Damascus region were repatriated aboard SS Marigot which sailed for Marseilles June 23. Others await repatriation in Beirut.

Generally speaking all French schools and cultural institutions in Syria (except in Alaouite region) have been closed those of religious [Page 965] character being under care of non-French religious personnel. Typical of Syrian boycott sentiment was ceremonial burning of French textbooks by group of students in Damascus June 24.

Fifty odd French officials employed by Syrian and Leb Govts and in joint “common interests” administration (notably customs service) have been dismissed with indemnities. Except for mixed courts, judges, none are left in Syrian service and remaining half dozen in Leb service are to be dismissed.

(Rptd to Paris as 74 with request to rpt to London; sent Dept as 205; paraphrases to Arab caps).

My personal view requested by Dept is that transfer of Troupes Spéciales to Syrian and Lebanese command would go far towards relieving local tensions and creating atmosphere favorable to international consideration of Levant relationships. Basically more constructive, however, would be meeting of Second Syrian Desideratum namely withdrawal of French troops.

You will recall that Gen Paget has recommended that before international conference meets there be withdrawal of all combatant troops both Brit and French from both Syria and Lebanon whose Govts would thenceforth be solely charged with responsibility for maintenance of internal security. This would presumably involve conversion of present Brit and French HQ into “service” commands for eventual liquidation of all Allied mil establishments, stores etc. in the Levant.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Troops in the Levant, largely of Lebanese and Syrian origin, but under French command.
  3. Henri Pharaon and Jamil Mardam Bey, respectively.
  4. Khalid al-Azm.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Text in George Kirk, Survey of International Affairs, 1939–1946: The Middle East in the War (London, 1952), p. 302.
  8. Not printed.
  9. Not printed. Lieutenant Colonel Virgil A. Jackson is the Military Attaché referred to.
  10. Wadsworth, who maintained his residence at Beirut as Minister to Lebanon, was accredited also as Minister to Syria.