After 8,763 soldiers killed and a stream of defectors, Assad still thinks he can win
In its 17-month crackdown on dissent, the Syrian army had by early July, lost 8,763 dead and 21,357 wounded. Some units lost a quarter of their manpower. Around 600 tanks and APCs – six percent of the Syrian armored corps fleet – were crippled. Around 200 can be fixed but repairs will take three months.
Defections from all ranks up to general are depleting combat divisions. All in all, the Syrian army has never been hit with this scale of casualties and losses. Yet Bashar Assad and his ruling family, some members of whom hold high military, security and intelligence command, show no cracks or fear of impending failure.
Just the reverse: President Assad boasted to the Turkish Hurriyet in a recent interview that were it not for the majority support he enjoys from the Syrian people he would have fallen like the Persian Shah in 1979.
The Syrian ruler is generally unfazed by the stream of high officers defecting to the rebels because, as debkafile reported on July 2 – he has quietly made a clean sweep of long-serving elite commanders, especially Sunnis, and replaced them with younger Alawite officers, drawn from security and intelligence agencies and the loyal, exceptionally brutal Alawite Shabiha militia.
Some of the defectors are generals who were quietly retired on full pay; others, mid-ranking officers who see their prospects of promotion vanishing in the incoming surge of young Alawite officers awarded top jobs.
The latest high-ranking defector, Brig.-Gen. Manaf Tlass, 105th Brigade commander of the Republic Guard belongs to the second category, debkafile’s intelligences disclose. His desertion is potentially a lot more damaging to the regime –politically rather than militarily.
He did not abscond to rebel ranks in Turkey as the Syrian opposition reported Friday, July 6, but headed for Paris to join his father, Gen. Mustafa Tlass, former Syrian Defense Minister who served Bashar Assad and his father for 40 years, and his daughter Nahed Ojjeh, widow of the leading Saudi arms dealer Akkram Ojjeh.
Both have good connections around the Arab world and are close to the Russian ruling elite in Moscow.
Mustafa Tlass left Syria five months ago over a conflict of loyalties: The prominent Sunni Tlass clan spearheaded the anti- Assad revolt in Rastan, a town near Homs. To avoid taking sides, Tass senior decamped.
His son, Brig.-Gen. Manaf, served in the Republic Guard defending the presidential place on Mount Qasioun, the nerve center of Assad’s vicious campaign to suppress dissent. As a member of the presidential inner circle, he was certainly part of the military establishment running that campaign.
Indeed, Assad rewarded his loyalty by letting him keep his job, only putting his promotion to general on hold.
Manaf, realizing his career prospects as a Sunni had been overtaken by the advancing Allawitization of the top Syrian command, decided to join his father.
According to our sources, he actually flew out of Damascus on June 26, not this week as widely reported.
From their new base in Paris, the heads of the Tlass clan have yet to decide which way to jump – whether to make use of their excellent connections in Moscow or join up with the pro-Western “Friends of Syria” Western-Arab group whose latest meeting in Paris, Friday, July 6, was chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Assad regime would suffer a serious setback if the Tlasses opted for the West and its Arab enemies.
US diplomats are therefore going out of their way to rope them in. They have turned to Firas Tlass, the powerful Syrian clan’s Dubai-based “finance minister,” for help. Above all, they are going to great lengths to dissuade these prominent Sunnis from gravitating toward their old ties in Moscow.