Exclusive - War only option to topple Syrian leader - colonel

Fri Oct 7, 2011 12:40pm GMT

By Jonathon Burch

ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) - The most senior officer to defect from Syria's armed forces has said there is no option but to topple President Bashar al-Assad by force and he was directing a military uprising against the Syrian leader from within Turkey.

Colonel Riad al-As'aad, who is now living under Turkish government protection in Hatay province on the Syrian border, said some 15,000 soldiers, including officers, had already deserted, and he was waiting to move his command inside Syria.

As'aad, A slim, softly-spoken man dressed in civilian clothes and open-collared shirt, said rebel soldiers were forming brigades around the country who were setting up ambushes against government forces to prevent them entering villages.

Morale in the Syrian army, he said, was low.

"Without a war, he will not fall. Whoever leads with force, cannot be removed except by force," As'aad told Reuters in a Syrian refugee camp in Hatay.

"The regime used a lot of oppressive and murderous tactics so I left, so that I will be the face outside for the command inside, because we have to be in a secure area and right now there is no safety in all of Syria," he said.

As'aad sat in the shade of a tree as Syrian refugee children laughed and played in the background. Music rang out from a nearby tent that served as a makeshift school.

Like most of the military, al-As'aad is Sunni Muslim; but the command is in the hands of officers from Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that also dominates the security apparatus and the ruling elite in the majority Sunni country.   Continued...

Syrian Colonel Riad al-As'aad speaks during an interview with Reuters at a refugee camp in Hatay, near the Turkish-Syrian border, October 6, 2011. 

REUTERS/Hasan Yetmez
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