A number of those soldiers who have left the Assad Army in recent weeks and months paint a picture of a military struggling to maintain the loyalty of anyone who has not been a longtime beneficiary of patronage from the Assad regime.
“When the revolution started they didn’t have this idea that so many soldiers might defect,” says Abu Obaida, an Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel fighter in Aleppo who defected about five months ago. “They sent many soldiers to their hometowns. They told them that they would fight terrorists, and when they arrived they saw their friends and family.”
Policemen who now often fight alongside the Army are among those who have had the easiest time defecting because they were not originally forced to live on military bases. Before the fighting started in Aleppo this summer, Abu Omar al-Homsi was among 70 police officers in the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood of Aleppo.
When he defected about four months ago, after months of trying unsuccessfully, he became one of only three others from his unit to join the opposition. Today he says there are only 11 left on the police force from his old unit. The rest have defected.
“The remaining police have been moved to a military base where they are on lockdown,” he says. He still speaks with some of them by phone and says that defection is not an option for his colleagues who remained unless the FSA liberates their base.
Intimate front lines
In many areas of Aleppo, the front lines are so close that FSA fighters and government forces can speak each other through walls or by shouting. In a few areas, FSA soldiers say that government troops have told them they want to defect but the ways out are guarded by snipers who are known to shoot anyone caught trying to escape.