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Tuesday, September 27, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Thousands of Syrian Army defectors join militias

NICOSIA — Syrian military defectors have formed militias to battle the regime of President Bashar Assad.


Opposition sources said thousands of Syrian soldiers, most of them Sunnis, have fled their Alawite commanders and formed militias. They said the militias were organized in most major Syrian cities and particularly along the borders of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

"They have caused a major change in how the Syrian military operates," an opposition source said.

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The militias were believed to be aligned with the Free Syrian Army, commanded from neighboring Turkey. The sources said between 3,000 and 5,000 fled the Syrian Army, some of them with their weapons.

The Free Syrian Army has claimed a membership of 10,000, most of them Sunni soldiers. In September, the opposition force said it shot down a Syrian Air Force helicopter near Damascus, a report that has not been confirmed.

Western diplomats have confirmed a rebel military presence along the northern Syrian border with Turkey. The sources said defectors also formed armed neighborhood watch groups to stop Assad's forces, particularly in the areas of Hama and Homs.

The rebel militias were said to have ambushed Assad patrols, particularly in the northeast. The Free Syrian Army, which claims 12 battalions, has announced attacks on regime forces on buses and at checkpoints.

The largest of the rebel units was identified as the Khalid Bin Walid Brigade, said to have up to 2,000 soldiers. The brigade, equipped with rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-fired air defense missiles, has been deployed in Homs and battled Assad forces throughout September.

"We are free officers who reject the oppression of people and protect innocent people," Lt. Mohammed Abdul Aziz Tlass, leader of the Walid brigade, said.

So far, more than 700 Syrian soldiers and police were said to have been killed by the militias. The sources said the militias targeted Alawite commanders, killing a battalion chief, while urging Sunni soldiers to join the rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has identified Jabal Al Zawiya as a hub for defectors on their way to Turkey. The British opposition group said many of the defectors were captured and executed in a recent military operation near the Turkish border.

On Sept. 26, four Syrian soldiers were killed by Assad forces during an escape attempt in the Idlib province. The opposition said another seven alleged defectors were captured.

The Assad regime has acknowledged the rebel militias. On Sept. 26, the military reported the discovery of a weapons cache, including an Israeli assault rifle, in Homs as well as near the border with Jordan. At the same time, thousands of Syrian troops, backed by helicopters and main battle tanks, assaulted the northern city of Rastan as part of an operation to capture escaped soldiers.

"The seized weapons include 25 pump-action shotguns and 10,000 pistol bullets in addition to military uniforms, remote control devices with a wireless set and radio-controlled detonators," the official Syrian news agency, Sana, said.

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