Monday, October 8, 2012

NYTimes: Syria's 'rebels': 'An army of the duped, cajoled, threatened & even the drugged!'

"...ANTAKYA, Turkey — ...But now opposition commanders say defections have slowed to a trickle. Some commanders have given up trying to entice defectors, and others have resorted to more desperate measures: cajoling, duping, threatening and even drugging and kidnapping military men to get them to change sides, or at least stay out of the fight. Without defections, they say, the opposition cannot hope to grow, never mind prevail. “We use means only used by the devil,” said Ahmed Qunatri, a rebel commander in northern Syria who defected from the Republican Guard. As Syria’s fighting burns into its 19th month, Mr. Assad’s forces have moved effectively to cut off what amounts to the armed rebellion’s most significant resource: soldiers with training and weapons who change sides.... Some rebel commanders now fret that all the soldiers who were inclined to defect already have. The rest remain loyal to the government, or are terrified of betraying it. Others are just suspicious of an armed movement that has found extremists among its ranks. A suicide attack in Aleppo on Wednesday that killed more than 40 people and devastated a government-held district drew widespread anger.... Some of the methods used by the rebels reflected a cunning forged in necessity, but also an ability, at times, for brutality. Several times in recent months, rebel fighting groups — making no effort to persuade their enemies — have been accused of summarily executing captured soldiers. Last week, rebel fighters claimed credit for bombing a school they said was used as a military base. “The fewer the defectors, the less the opposition strives to attract soldiers rather than just fight them,” said Peter Harling, an expert on Syria with the International Crisis Group. “And the harsher armed groups treat the enemy, the fewer will change sides. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.”... Though the rebels claim to have attracted thousands of recruits, there is little evidence the defections have slowed the Syrian Army. Many rebels say they are still waiting for a pivotal moment, for instance, when a brigade changes sides. Until that happens, they say, they are squeezing the army of every last dissenter against increasing odds An officer from Damascus said rebels called him for 16 months, without ever giving their names, first peppering him with friendly requests, before telling him he would be killed if he did not desert. To drive home the point, sometimes, they called from dead soldiers’ cellphones. “I finally defected, but I was so scared I didn’t trust my own wife,” said the officer. A few weeks ago, three Syrian border guards decided to flee the country, forcing another soldier who had no desire to defect with them at gunpoint, fearing he would thwart their escape. “It was very confusing,” the soldier said in a phone interview from a country neighboring Syria on Friday. “If I stayed, the officers would blame me and I would surely face the death penalty. If I refused, my colleagues might kill me.” After they had crossed the border, the defectors told the soldier he was free. “But where to go?” the soldier said. “I’m stuck with no way to go back. I’m already involved.” ..."

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