Is the Syrian Military Fracturing?

It appears that the Syrian military is starting to fracture. Exactly how widespread this is remains to be seen.

Via al Jazeera English:  Syrian army ‘cracking’ amid crackdown

The escalating military offensive in northwest Syria began after what corroborating accounts said was a shoot-out between members of the military secret police in Jisr al-Shughur, some of whom refused to open fire on unarmed protesters.

A growing number of first-hand testimonies from defected soldiers give a rare but dramatic insight into the cracks apparently emerging in Syria’s security forces as the unrelenting assault on unarmed protesters continues.

The situation appears significant enough that state-run media are having to admit it (after a fashion):

state-run Syria TV admitted that gunmen “in military uniform” were responsible for the killing of the 120 security personnel, with SANA, the official news agency, claiming the assailants had stolen the uniforms and that residents were now pleading for the army to intervene.

The story has a number of specific examples, including the following:

On Saturday, news broke that a lieutenant colonel had defected with a number of his troops and joined residents of Jisr al-Shughur, according to an activist who spoke to Al Jazeera, an account corroborate by reporting from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC).

The activist said the lieutenant colonel defected during an operation in Bdama village, 10km west of Jisr al-Shughur, taking 150 armed troops with him to support the besieged town.

In a video published on June 10, a man claiming to be officer in the 11th Battalion announced his defection from the army, saying he and other soldiers had joined the uprising after being unable to continue killing unarmed protesters, particularly what he called the “massacre” in Jisr al-Shughur on June 4.

“Our current aim is the protection of the protesters who are asking for freedom and democracy,” said the man, giving his name as officer Hussein Harmoush.


For defector Ali Hassan Satouf, the breaking point came during last month’s military assault on the port city of Baniyas.

Unlike most Syrian soldiers, Satouf joined the army voluntarily. As a non-conscripted sergeant major Satouf’s loyalty to the defence of his country ran deep, a belief that he was protecting Syria from its enemies abroad, primarily Israel.

So when the young man from the northwest received orders to deploy to Baniyas to battle “terrorist armed groups coming from outside Syria, terrifying people” he did not hesitate to do his duty.

Until he realised he had been lied to.

“When we went to Baniyas we didn’t find any terrorist groups. We found only peaceful demonstrations,” he said in a video recorded on June 6. “Some of the young men had bare chests. And all the chants were for freedom and reform.”

Clearly, widespread defections/unwillingness to attack civilians would be a major development (and a serious threat to the regime).  One of the key questions in any event of this nature is the degree to which the military will be willing to fire on civilian protestors.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Southern Hoosier says:

    How many military leaders in Libya have defected and Gaddafi is still in power? When do we start bombing Syria in support of the rebels?

  2. Southern Hoosier says:

    This story speaks for itself.

    BEIRUT (AP) — Elite Syrian troops backed by helicopters and tanks regained control Sunday of a town where police and soldiers joined forces with the protesters they were ordered to shoot — a decisive assault from a government prepared for an all-out battle to keep power.

    Troops led by the president’s brother shelled Jisr al-Shughour as the gunships hovered overhead, paving the way for scores of tanks and armored personnel carriers to roll in from two directions. By early afternoon, the sounds of battle faded. The army was in control.