Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – 85 Syrian soldiers, including a General and a number of more junior officers, defected en mass from the al-Assad regime on Monday, crossing the border into Turkey to join the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. At the same time as this, Syria’s Chief of Staff, General Fahd Jassem al-Freiji, was giving the keynote speech at a graduation ceremony for the latest batch of Syrian army officers. During the speech, General al-Freiji acknowledged that “Syria is passing through exceptional circumstances and a semi-cosmic war that targets its existence and seeks to undermine its power” adding that “the conspirators seek to take revenge upon the Syrian people who foiled the enemies’ goals in tearing apart Syria’s unity.” However this speech, in which the Syrian army commander attempted to raise the morale of his troops, only serves to highlight the escalating rate of defections from the Syrian army.
Turkey’s state-run Abdolou news agency said that the group of 85 defectors included 14 officers ranging from one colonel to seven captains. This group represents one of the largest groups of Syrian army defectors to cross into Turkey since the beginning of the popular uprising against al-Assad.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, FSA commander Colonel Riad al-Asaad confirmed that “a large group of soldiers defected from the regime’s forces and joined the FSA in Turkey.”
He added “the increasing pace of defections is due to the deteriorating morale of the Syrian army, and its belief that the al-Assad regime has begun to collapse, and that the tide has turned in the favour of the revolution.”
Colonel al-Asaad also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “90 percent of the military units affiliated to the al-Assad regime are being provisioned with food by helicopters, because they no longer possess the military capabilities to move freely on the ground in Syria for fear of being targeted and attacked.”
He added “we, the FSA and the revolution, are in control of approximately 70 percent of Syrian territory, but we will not reveal the names of the provinces under our control in order to avoid them being targeted by aerial bombardment.”
The FSA commander also revealed that “more than 40,000 armed soldiers of the FSA are fighting on the ground in Syria, whilst there are 100,000 more who are waiting for arms to join the ranks of the fighters and who are ready for battle.”
Colonel al-Asaad also stressed that “the FSA has not received any arms or material support from any Arab or foreign state. The FSA draws its support from Syrian donors, for we are not coming out to ask for money but in order to fight and topple this criminal regime.”
Answering a question as to whether all Syrian defectors are fighting against the al-Assad regime on the ground, Colonel al-Asaad told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are officers and soldiers who defected out of belief [in the revolution], and they are fighting on the ground, whilst others may not have defected out of belief, and they are present in the camps and not carrying out any operations.”
For his part, Syrian National Council [SNC] member Louay Safi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the main reason behind the defections is the regime’s complete reliance on violence, especially after it began to focus on killing innocent civilians and children and bombarding cities, after it no longer was capable of confronting the FSA on the ground.”
He added “there are some noble people in the Syrian army who refuse to follow orders to kill civilians, and so if they have the opportunity, they take the decision to defect.”
Answering a question regarding what the SNC provides to these defectors, Safi stressed that “the SNC’s capabilities are limited, but they provided humanitarian assistance and financial relief to the defectors in Syria to secure their requirements and ensure they remain steadfast, as well as secure means of communication for them. As for those who go to Turkey, the Turkish government becomes responsible for them and it provides them with housing and the necessary requirements.”