Washington — The United States welcomes the decision by a Syrian air force pilot who defected to neighboring Jordan and sought asylum rather than attack his fellow countrymen, U.S. officials said.
At a Pentagon briefing June 21, spokesman George Little told reporters, “We’ve long called for members of the Syrian armed forces and members of the Syrian regime to defect and to abandon their positions rather than be complicit in the regime’s atrocities. This is just one of countless instances where Syrians, including members of the security forces, have rejected the abysmal actions of the Assad regime, and it certainly will not be the last.”
On June 21, Syrian Air Force Colonel Hassan al-Mirei Hamadeh commandeered a Soviet-era MiG aircraft and flew it to a Jordanian air base where he sought and was granted political asylum by Jordanian authorities, according to published news reports. There have been defections by other members of the Syrian armed forces, mainly from the army. This is the first air force defection in the 16-month-old civil uprising that began as a peaceful political protest by residents of a southern city over the torture of students by government security forces for posting anti-government graffiti. The ensuing crackdown by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has led to the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians, fighting across the country and sanctions imposed by nations across the world, including the United States.
Little told reporters that the United States regards this as a legitimate defection by a Syrian pilot. The political asylum was granted to Hamadeh following a Jordanian Cabinet meeting.
“I think you have some complex dynamics at work in Syria,” Little told journalists. “It’s too early to tell where all of this is going. But there are movements on both sides that I think are very important.
“And day by day by day, in the eyes of the Syrian people, and certainly in the eyes of the international community, the Assad regime is losing its legitimacy,” Little said.
While the Assad regime becomes increasingly brittle, the Syrian opposition is finding ways of organizing themselves more effectively, Little said. “Their resolve seems to be strengthening over time, even in the wake of despicable acts perpetrated by the Assad regime. They are standing up in the face of coercion and in the face of profound violence perpetrated by Damascus,” he said.
At a State Department briefing June 21, spokesperson Victoria Nuland told journalists that “on the humanitarian side, the United States is now the largest donor to the humanitarian relief effort [for Syria], both in Turkey and in other parts of the region where there is a humanitarian need, and in supporting the U.N. agencies that are working in Syria.”
The United States is providing humanitarian assistance primarily through the United Nations, and there has not been a call or a requirement for anything other than U.S. civilian humanitarian assistance. Nuland said that “to my knowledge, the U.S. military is not involved in the humanitarian effort.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “What I can tell you is that we provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. We provide nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and we continue to work with the opposition, in concert with our international partners, to help them organize themselves, to help them develop greater capacities, all as part of the process of preparing for a political transition that the Syrian people absolutely desire and deserve and that will take place.”
Carney also told journalists that it is up to the Syrian people to decide what happens to Assad after political transition occurs in Syria.
“This is not a matter for the United States to decide, certainly not alone,” he added.