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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs