“As you know, we have long called for members of the Syrian military to refuse to obey orders, to break with the Assad regime,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “And we’d like to see more of this.”
The defection came on a day of surging violence across Syria, with human rights groups and activists reporting at least 96 deaths. Most of the deaths resulted from intense shelling of opposition strongholds in the provinces of Homs and Daraa as the army intensified a push to recapture areas that have fallen under rebel control.
In the Facebook posting, Ford issued a stark warning to Assad’s security forces that the United States intends to work with Syrians after the fall of the Damascus government to track down those responsible for the violence and bring them to justice. He reminded them of the strenuous 16-year effort to hunt down and bring to trial the Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic.
“Members of the Syrian military should reconsider their support for a regime that is losing the battle,” Ford wrote. “The officers and soldiers of the Syrian military have a choice to make. Do they want to expose themselves to criminal prosecution . . .? Or do they want to help secure the role of the professional military in a democratic Syria by supporting the Syrian people?”
Jordan swiftly granted the pilot’s asylum request, a move that risks increasing tensions between Amman and Damascus at a time when the escalating conflict is drawing in regional players. After becoming one of the first Arab leaders to support calls for Assad to step aside last summer, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has since sought to lower his kingdom’s profile in the Syria crisis, amid concerns that Assad’s fall could trigger widespread instability in Jordan.
Defection’s import unclear
It was unclear whether the defection of a lone pilot, identified by Syrian government media as Col. Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh, signified anything more than an individual case of disgruntlement.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency initially reported that he had gone missing on a training flight. But after Jordan announced that it had granted the pilot’s request for political asylum, the agency denounced him as “a deserter and a traitor to his country” and said he would be “punished accordingly.”
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, Col. Malik Kurdi, called Hamadeh a hero “who shared in the suffering of the Syrian people and expressed his rejection of the tyranny practiced by the regime.”