News / Middle East

Assassinations Leave Void in Syrian Military Leadership

Syrian Ministers Killed in Damascus
Syrian Ministers Killed in Damascus
The high-level assassinations on Wednesday of at least three top Syrian officials targeted President Bashar al-Assad's national security team, leaving a large void in the country's military leadership.
 
The casualties include Defense Minister Daoud Rajha; General Asef Shawkat, the Syrian military's deputy chief of staff, who is married to Assad's elder sister; and Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister and senior military adviser.
 
They are the first prominent officials killed in the 16-month anti-government uprising and represent a turning point in Syria's increasingly violent civil war.  The men were from Syria's core leadership team attempting to suppress the revolt and, experts say, the president might have trouble replacing them.
 
Syrian state television called the blast a "suicide terrorist attack," while Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Riad al-Asaad said rebel forces planted a bomb in the room and detonated it.
 
Brian Sayers, director of government relations for the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based lobbying organization of FSA supporters, quoted sources in Syria as saying the attack was most likely carried out by an opposition sympathizer working in the Assad government.
 
That view was echoed by Fabrice Balanche, director of the French research center Gremmo and a Syria expert, who said "[The bombing] demonstrates complicity inside the Syrian government, and shows that [dissidents] are staying in government to destroy it from within."
 
New Military Leader Named
 
The government moved quickly to assert control, naming General Fahed Jassem al-Freij, the military chief of staff, as Syria's new defense minister.  In a statement on state television, Freij said the military would not be deterred from "cutting off every hand that harms the security of the homeland and citizens."
 
Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert with Chatham House in London, said targeted killings could damage the opposition's position and that the lack of decisive international intervention is forcing rebels to use military action to oust Mr. Assad, a tactic he said could prove costly in the future.
 
"The more militarized the conflict gets, the more difficult the transition will be later," Shehadi said.  "All the people now being armed will have to be disarmed when the regime falls.  The international community's non-position on this, and non-interference, is something that will cost it a lot later."
 
Shehadi called Wednesday's bombing "a double-edged sword" because he said he does not believe opposition rebels can defeat the government with military force alone.
 
Analyst Fabrice Balanche agreed, saying the rebels are "trying to kill the heart of the Syrian [government] because they are not capable of effectively fighting Assad's official army.  They are attempting to decapitate the government [and] demoralize the Syrian army."
 
Attacks Target Inner Circle
 
Former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who served in President George W. Bush's administration, said the assassinations offer a sharp warning for the inner group of loyalists from President Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
 
"The defense minister was a Christian and not part of the Alawite elite that rules the country.  But [General Asef] Shawkat was part of that elite which now understands that it itself is vulnerable," Abrams said.  "Assad can continue to rule without one individual or another.  But I think this does shake the regime and suggest to everybody in it that really the handwriting is on the wall [i.e., the future is clear] and that they are going to fall," he said.
 
The Syrian Support Group said the FSA has about 50,000 fighters and controls large portions of Syria.  Syrian Canadian Louay Sakka, a co-founder of the support group, said that as of last month, President Assad's army consisted of 350,000 troops, but was actively using only 60,000-70,000 troops.
 
Assad in a Bind
 
Damascus-based journalist Farhad Hama told VOA's Kurdish Service that the killings have put Mr. Assad's government in a precarious position.  "Damascus is now in a chaotic situation security-wise because those who were killed had direct influence and control over security forces and the army," he said.
 
The attack has increased tensions between government soldiers and the opposition, with fierce clashes reported in several Damascus neighborhoods.
 
Activists in the Syrian capital said traffic is thin and almost all shops are closed.  A series of defections from government forces also has been reported, including two brigadier generals who fled to Turkey.
 

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
July 19, 2012 1:10 PM
With these three military men out of action, wouldn't now be the time to group up and storm the Presidential Palace? The quicker Assad is stopped, the faster the war and innocent killing would be over.


by: Anonymous
July 19, 2012 1:09 PM
One would assume that the Syrian army is at its weakest point right now losing these three military members. It is unfortunate this tragic chaos happening in Syria has had to happen, unfortunate for all the families who have lost loved ones on both sides. It is unfortunate it is all caused by Assads initial decision to follow his fathers footsteps by indiscriminately shelling helpless innocent people who want a say, in regards to their country and fellow citizens they so love. We as westerners are disgusted in the Syrian Leaders decision to try and annihilate civillians.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid