Friday, July 27, 2012

Syrian army supply crisis has regime on brink of collapse, say defectors

General who swapped sides says regime can last 'two months at most' as troop morale sinks and petrol trucks are ambushed

Luke Harding in Aleppo province, Friday 27 July 2012

"Bashar al-Assad's military machine is on the brink of logistical meltdown and collapse, because it lacks petrol and food, and is having problems resupplying its soldiers, according to a Syrian general who has defected to the opposition.

Much has been made of the Syrian military's supposed superiority over the opposition, but General Mohammad Al-Zobi told the Guardian: "The benzine is nearly finished. They are running out of rockets. There is scarcely any bread or water for the soldiers."

Zobi defected two months ago alongside his air force colleague General Saed Shawamra. They slipped out from Tiftanaz airbase in the middle of the night. From the city of Idlib they crept across the border to Turkey. On Wednesday they crossed back into Syria, their mission now to finish off the revolution against Assad.

The men, from Dera'a province, are among around 100 senior military commanders who have joined Syria's rebels, appalled – they say – by Assad's brutal war against his own population. According to Zobi, the embattled Syrian regime can last "one or two months at most". "After that Assad will leave Syria. He'll go to Russia or maybe Iran," Zobi predicted, sitting in a village in rustic northern Syria, close to the Turkish border.

It is, of course, in the interests of the rebels to paint a picture of a crumbling regime on the brink of collapse, but it chimes with the view of General Robert Mood, the former head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria, who told Reuters on Friday: "In my opinion it is only a matter of time before a regime that is using such heavy military power and disproportional violence against the civilian population is going to fall......

Over the past few months the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has taken control of large swaths of the countryside, carving out a mini-empire in the north and east. The regime is largely confined to urban areas.

This new geographical reality has given opposition fighters the capacity to degrade the military's creaking supply chain....

The two generals had been in charge of helicopters at the Tiftanaz base, outside Idlib. Because of rebel attacks on supply routes, the garrison was now forced to fly in food and ammunition by plane from Aleppo, they said. It was a similar picture in other army bases, increasingly vulnerable and cut off, Zobi suggested.

Assad's greatest advantage over his lightly armed opponents comes from the sky. Syria has 150 Soviet-built helicopters, including M8 and M17 troop transporters, capable of transporting 24 soldiers each. Russia had also delivered "five or six new helicopters" over the past month, the generals said.

But the president's most lethal weapon is his notorious M25 helicopter gunship.....

The generals also painted a portrait of a demoralised Assad army. Some 30% of the president's soldiers had deserted, they said.....

Other defectors who had made their way to northern Syria confirmed the generals' bleak view, and said the rank and file in Assad's army wanted out....."

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