Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat—A high-ranking Syrian military officer and approximately 20 soldiers defected from the embattled Syrian army in two separate incidents on Saturday.
Appearing in a YouTube Video yesterday, Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf was shown dressed in a camouflage military uniform and said he had planned his escape with the opposition movement for some time.
The video, which could not be independently verified, shows a man with white hair in civilian clothes getting into a car and a voice off-screen naming him as General Mohammed Khalouf, head of logistics, who has defected.”
The man speaking in the video says that Khalouf and his family were being escorted out of Syria on Friday.
Activists said they waited before reporting the defection to ensure that Khalouf and his family had crossed safely into neighboring Jordan.
There was no comment about the defection on Syrian state news outlets.
Defection of high-ranking military and political figures has slowed in past months.
However, a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published this week estimated that Assad’s forces, thought to be more than 300,000-strong at the start of the uprising two years ago, were now at a much lower effective strength and were likely to diminish further.
The IISS said that perhaps 50,000 of the Syrian army’s elite troops could be depended on for loyalty. Most of them were likely to be from Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which has dominated the country for more than four decades.
Many deserters report that their units were held inside bases to prevent their escape.
Since the March 2011 start of the conflict between Assad’s regime and rebel forces, dozens of senior army officers including some 40 generals have defected and headed to Turkey.
Turkish authorities have refused to give the exact number of Syrian defectors, who typically join the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army.
Former Syrian premier Riad Hijab defected to Jordan in August 2012.
Syria’s civil war began as a popular street movement but has evolved into an increasingly sectarian conflict. The opposition has been mostly led by the Sunni Muslim population, with Alawites and other minorities mostly throwing their weight behind Assad.