Saturday, March 17, 2012

Syrian Armed Forces Desertion Said to Surge to 60,000

Emre Peker and Donna Abu-Nasr – Bloomberg

Desertions by members of Syria’s armed forces have swollen to about 60,000 as growing numbers of troops refuse to join the crackdown on protests by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official.

About 20,000 service personnel have left in less than a month, said the official, who cited Turkish intelligence reports and spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with government rules. The desertions are in addition to 40,000 military personnel who left before Feb. 20, the official said. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal yesterday said a seventh Syrian general has defected and is now in Turkey.

Syria’s armed forces have 295,000 active personnel, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2012 Military Balance. They have been at the forefront of Assad’s bid to stamp out the yearlong uprising, which this month resulted in the seizure of the rebel-held strongholds of Idlib and Homs. Some of the soldiers are joining the opposition Free Syrian Army, whose commanders reside in Turkish refugee camps. “Elite units have demonstrated loyalty to the Assad regime and ruthlessness in suppressing demonstrators,” according to this month’s report from the London-based IISS. Even so, “a growing number of defections, mostly from junior officers and soldiers, have been recorded, raising questions about the army’s cohesiveness.”
It’s “not clear that the regime has sufficient loyal forces to guarantee survival against a sustained campaign of protest or an active armed insurgency,” according to the report.
SANA said millions of Syrians streamed into squares in cities across the country yesterday in a government-sanctioned “global march for Syria,” an initiative by the country’s youth. The march is “uniting all Syrians in affirmation of their loyalty and affiliation to their homeland,” SANA said, without providing further details.

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