Syrian army near collapse, rebels say
Beirut - The Syrian army is slowly disintegrating as troop morale plummets and more soldiers defect to join rebels fighting a regime crackdown against dissent, a spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army said on Friday.
"The regular army is in a pitiful state and getting close to collapsing," said Major Maher Nouaimi, who is based with the FSA in Turkey, in a telephone interview.
"Even though the army has huge military capabilities, soldiers no longer have the will to fight or are ready to do so."
Nouaimi said there was also growing discontent among officers and the rank and file against army commanders, who are largely drawn from President Bashar Assad's Alawite community, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.
Most of the conscripts in the military are from Syria's majority Sunni Muslim community.
A growing number have been defecting and joining the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the 11-month government crackdown on a popular revolt continues.
An estimated 6 000 people have died in the bloodshed, according to rights groups.
"In the last 24 hours many defections have taken place in all of the provinces where there is unrest," Nouaimi said. "Some involve one soldier and others a whole group."
Nouaimi said several soldiers defected on Friday in the southern province of Daraa where nine regime troops were killed in clashes with the FSA.
He said in many instances dissident soldiers have literally had to fight their way out, braving checkpoints by security forces to escape.
Nouaimi added that young men over the age of 18 were also no longer reporting for their compulsory military service.
"This is a sign of defeat for the army," he said.
Although heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the Free Syrian Army has increasingly launched bold attacks against regime forces and managed to seize control of some neighbourhoods of the central flashpoint town of Homs.
The FSA claims to have about 40 000 members, including defectors and sympathisers.