The defection this week of a key general with longstanding ties to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was hailed Friday by officials in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama as an important step towards ending the regime.
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlas, was reportedly smuggled by opposition activists to Turkey three days ago and may be en route to Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters Friday during a high-level meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group in the French capital. Fabius later stated that he had no indication of Tlas’s final destination.
“We welcome this defection and we believe it is significant,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who took part in the Paris meeting, also praised Tlas’s defection and predicted that more would follow.
“(I)t is important that there is this increasing stream of senior military defectors,” she told reporters after the meeting in reference to Tlas’s defection. “Because if people like him, and like the generals and colonels and others who have recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet.
“Those who have the closest knowledge of Assad’s actions and crimes are moving away, and we think that’s a very promising development,” she added.
Independent analysts here, including some who have long expressed skepticism over administration claims of the regime’s vulnerability, largely echoed that view, agreeing that Tlas’s departure has struck a major blow to the regime, which has relied for some 40 years on unity between the Alawite minority, of which the Assad are a part, and the Sunni military and business elite.