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

Ferguson Grand Jury Expected to Reconvene

It remains unclear whether jurors will reach a decision by midweek Thanksgiving holiday on whether to indict a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager More

Corruption Fighters Want More From World’s Strongest Nations

Anti-corruption activists say final communique fell short of expectations and failed to fully address systemic problems More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid