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Militant Enterprises: The Jihadist Private Military Companies of Northwest Syria
Muhojir Tactical’s Instructor, Hawk Ayyub

Militant Enterprises: The Jihadist Private Military Companies of Northwest Syria


In 2015, the emergence of Malhama Tactical, a ‘jihadist’ private military company (PMC), marked the beginning of a new type of armed group entering the Syrian conflict. Where many groups once relied on foreign military advisors and defectors from the Syrian army for tactical training, these ‘Jihadist’ PMCs now play a unique role by offering tactical and operational training for non-state armed groups, whose increased professionalization risks further escalating the Syrian conflict.

While Malhama Tactical was the first of these PMCs, it was later absorbed in 2017 by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), following the alleged death of Malhama’s founder Abu Rofiq. Since then, several new ‘jihadist’ PMCs have been established which copied and further developed Malhama’s original concept. These groups include the Uzbek led Muhojir Tactical founded in 2022, Uyghur Yurtugh Tactical founded in 2018, and Albanian Tactical founded in 2022.

Within HTS , jihadist PMCs operate as part of a larger web of foreign fighters. Rank and file foreign fighters, especially those from the Caucasus and Central Asia, are referred to as inghimasi, and are perceived to be fierce fighters often engaging in suicide attacks. PMC’s in contrast, play a significantly different role, serving as vital resources for tactical battlefield advising and training, while acting as ‘special forces’ for groups like HTS. In a combat theater now dominated by artillery, airstrikes, loitering munitions, and long range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), PMC’s specially trained in infantry combat are valuable units on the battlefield.

PMC’s specialization in infantry combat has led to sophisticated and extensive social media propaganda campaigns displaying their tactical expertise which serve as both training and recruitment material for future fighters. Utilizing substantial income streams from foreign donors as well as weapons sales, these ‘jihadist’ PMCs can both equip themselves with the latest tactical military weaponry and equipment and publicize their exploits, ‘showing off’ their abilities, skills, and gear.

Concerningly, when the Syrian conflict concludes, or as these groups decide to expand their operational scope, their experience and advanced equipment will become a threat to their countries of origin such as Russia, China, and the Central Asia states. Companies such as Yurtugh Tactical have broader military and political aspirations, such as liberating the Uyghur people of East Turkistan (Xinjiang), ending the genocide currently being carried out by the Chinese Communist Party, and establishing an Islamic state.

Half Tutorial, Half Islamist Propaganda.

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Muhojir Tactical’s Instructor, Hawk Ayyub poses with his customized rifle. Posted on Instagram.

The groups' tactical prowess becomes apparent in their large number of training and recruitment videos. The newest PMCs, Muhojir and Yurtugh Tactical, have been most prolific, posting videos that serve as one part battlefield training guide and one part extremist propaganda. In particular, the Uzbek led Muhojir Tactical continually posts a stream of professionally filmed and edited videos that offer a variety of real-world tactical advice. These videos provide trainings on operating a DsHK heavy machine gun, sharpshooting techniques with .50 caliber anti-material rifles, using rifles with night vision optics, procedures for using different fragmentation grenades in close quarters combat, and even instructions on firing a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Beyond that, the instructor who goes by the alias Ayyub Hawk, provides trainings on rendering battlefield medical aid, going over the proper procedure to tourniquet a bullet wound, and maintaining fire superiority while retrieving an injured comrade.

While these videos serve primarily as training aids, their propagandistic purpose must not be ignored. On camera with his signature lion’s mane haircut, Ayyub Hawk presents himself as a charismatic teacher, often smiling in videos and photos. He speaks in a cadence similar to a social media influencer rather than a mercenary providing heavy weapons training.

Muhojir’s modern editing style is seemingly geared toward attracting a younger audience. While their videos still include the hallmark nasheeds present in almost all Salafist/Islamist propaganda, Muhojir also includes sophisticated 3D graphics, historical reference footage, and even popular memes in their videos. On Instagram, Hawk plays into the ‘influencer’ role to greater effect, posting ‘artsy’ photos of his rifle, live Q&A sessions with ‘fans’, cooking videos, and ‘fan art’ made by Muhojir’s viewers. This recruitment tactic is reminiscent of Muhojir's predecessor Malhama, which advertised a 'fun and friendly' team in their advertisements on social media.

Yurtugh Tactical Propaganda displaying weapons and tactical gear. Posted on Telegram.

Similarly, Yurtugh Tactical has begun posting videos online demonstrating their tactical abilities albeit reaching a far smaller audience. These include speed shooting drills, a form of tactical military training most commonly practiced by special forces and for sports shooting competitions. They also have a presence on Instagram, posting both training videos and infographics about Uyghur culture and history.

Interestingly, PMC propaganda is almost entirely published in the native languages of the fighters, whether it be Uzbek, Uyghur, Russian, Chechen/Ingush, or Albanian rather than Arabic or English. This indicates a deliberate effort to recruit from Muslim-majority regions, such as those in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. A particularly alarming trend, as the majority of foreign fighters still making the journey to fight in Syria are coming from regions like Central Asia. Comments on Muhojir Tactical’s videos confirm these concerns, with comments written in Uzbek such as

“Hello, you are helping the ummah a lot… How can I contact you?” and “It was very useful lesson about RPG. In the next videos, talk about ambushing and using mines in battle.”.

The widespread dissemination of PMC propaganda material helps boost recruitment to Syria by portraying the life of a foreign fighter as glamorous while offering viewers, anywhere in the world, practical guidance on the use of heavy weaponry.

A Muhojir Tactical recruitment poster that encourages Uzbek viewers to emigrate to Syria. Posted on Telegram

The Gear is too Good

PMC’s such as Muhojir, Yurtugh, and Albanian Tactical have access to concerningly diverse and substantial streams of revenue. Throughout their videos a variety of expensive and exotic gear is constantly displayed. These include training videos using expensive night vision goggles and infrared lasers that sell for close to $2,000 USD each. Rifles and weapons shown off in videos and photos are frequently accessorized with pricey optics and suppressors. The brandished firearms are also rare and expensive, such as AK-103/104s, AM50 anti-material rifles, PKM machine guns, customized AR-15s, FN FALs, locally modified AK pattern bullpup rifles and a RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher.

A member of Albanian Tactical poses with a Croatian RBG-6 Grenade Launcher, Black Market Price: $1,350 USD. Posted on Telegram.

Furthermore, PMC members are often seen carrying and using pistols, which are often as expensive as their primary weapons, bolstering their ‘elite’ image among potential clients in Syria and recruits abroad. Despite clearly having deep pockets, these groups invest primarily in infantry fighting gear and weaponry, rather than anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), heavy artillery, and drones. This likely reflects two realities faced on the ground, especially in Idlib where most fighting now occurs. First, the exponentially higher cost of heavy weapons on the black market so far keeps them out of reach of PMCs. Second, PMC’s are filling a niche in the current conflict, providing groups like HTS who can afford heavy weapons, with greater tactical infantry support, enhancing HTS’s ability to successfully conduct infiltration operations deep within Syrian Arab Army territory. Expensive gear also enhances PMC propaganda, giving them the appearance of an elite special force of a recognized state, rather than the more traditional image of a jihadist militia.

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Members of Albanian Tactical train with a Glock 19 and AK-74su, note the extensive tactical gear, expensive watches, and radios, etc. Glock Price: $2,550 USD Black Market. AK-74su Price: $3,000 USD Black Market. Posted on Telegram.


The recent development of independently-operating, highly skilled, and well-armed jihadist private military companies (PMCs) within Northwest Syria represents a major shift in the conflict. While mercenaries like the Wagner Group have been present in the Syrian conflict from very early stages, this new style of PMC combines Salafist-Islamist ideologies, advanced tactical battlefield proficiency, and well produced propaganda. The emergence of these Jihadist PMCs is unlikely to remain isolated to Syria, nor the MENA region alone. Recent IS-KP attacks in Iran and Russia by Tajik nationals are further signs of a growing jihadist movement emanating from Central Asia. As the conflict in Syria grinds to a standstill, ‘jihadist’ PMCs will begin to expand in conflict zones from Afghanistan, Libya, and Sudan, or to their countries of origin where they could bring significant arms and expertise to Central Asia and the Caucasus.


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