Crumbling: Nearly 20 Senior Syrian Military Officers Defect Assad's Regime

A senior Syrian rebel official says the defection of 17 military officers and the prime minister shows Assad's regime 'is falling apart.'

By SHARE
Pano_120720_05.jpg

Nearly 20 high-ranking Syrian military officers defected to Turkey on Monday, says an opposition source who added Bashar al-Assad's regime "is falling apart."

The source tells U.S. News & World Report that 17 senior military officers have fled the country on the same day former Prime Minister Riad Hijab had defected to Jordan.

While some officials and analysts have warned in recent weeks that regime and rebel forces likely will remain engaged in a bloody stalemate for some time, the opposition source says "something definitive is going to happen because we do not have a stalemate at this point in time."

Assad's regime largely has abandoned its ground game, says the source.

[Photo Gallery: NASA's Curiosity Lands on Mars.]

Instead, it is "relying almost exclusively on shelling cities continuously and using air fighters to bomb some neighborhoods," says the source. "They are not able to use ground forces to move into the cities. The Free Syrian Army is gaining momentum on a daily basis."

The Assad regime has yet to issue a formal statement about Monday's defections. Reports from Syria describe a state television statement that indicated Hijab has been dismissed from his post.

Rumors of rebel momentum were tempered last week by Truman Project CEO Rachel Kleinfeld, who said "we're set for a long civil war if nothing is done [by] our side." Rebel forces will control urban areas, but Assad's forces will be in charge of key suburban areas and border regions, she said.

"We're looking at a long, bloody stalemate" that will only get "bloodier and bloodier," Kleinfeld said, adding sectarian fighting "has already started."

The opposition source, however, says "regime forces are losing more and more ground every day."

"For a while, the regime was able to push back and regain territory it has lost. But now they are unable to push back," the source explains.

Meantime, the defections of the prime minister and the 17 military officers "is a big sign ... the regime is falling apart at this point," says the opposition source. The number of Syrian military troops who defect each day is rising, the source says.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney on Monday told reporters the Obama administration has been working with Arab League allies on what a post-Assad transitional government might look like.

The opposition source says the Syrian National Council, the leading political opposition group, also is working on a set of "standards" under which a temporary government would be formed. "Once you have those standards established, it becomes pretty easy to determine who's going to be in the government," the source says. "We also are more connected to the Free Syrian army leaders and the units on the ground. ... We have a transitional plan."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

  • Obama Exempts Military Personnel From Cuts; Civilian Workers, Weapons At Bigger Risk
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy
  • Mars Curiosity Rover Touches Down Safely