Defections from Bashar Assad's Armed Forces Are Growing

(Economist-UK) The glue and the guts of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime are the army and its allies in the police and the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service. So far they have generally stayed loyal. But defectors are growing in number and are getting better organized. Since the start of the uprising in March there have been defections, mainly from the ranks of Sunni conscripts. Some flee the country, others hide among civilians. In July, Riad al-Asaad, a colonel in his 50s, left for Turkey and announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army. Another group, calling itself the Free Officers' Movement, also emerged. The Free Syrian Army says it has 22 "battalions" across the country, with field leaders taking orders from a central command in Turkey. These include the Khalid bin Walid battalion in Homs, where clashes with loyalist forces have been fiercest. In the past few weeks, fighting has also broken out in Idlib, in the northwest, and al-Bukamal, on the border with Iraq. The role of defectors is changing. "Defected soldiers initially just fled, then they came out with weapons behind protesters just to ensure they were safe to go out," says a man who received military training and took part in Free Syrian Army actions. Now he says the army defectors are becoming more belligerent, attacking checkpoints, armed pro-regime gangs and military equipment.

2011-10-28 00:00:00

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