Syrian army defectors who stay out of harm’s way

The Associated Press reports: Syrians hoping for a swift rebel victory in their homeland are growing impatient with top army defectors who are staying in Turkey even after fighters on the ground have gained territory across the border in northern Syria.

Turkey has emerged as a haven not only for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, but for some of the most high-level defectors from President Bashar Assad’s regime. The Free Syrian Army, the loose umbrella group of rebel fighters, uses Turkey as a headquarters and staging ground, in part because the rebels have not been able to secure a safe haven inside the country.

But now rebel fighters have carved out some ground for themselves along the border inside Syria, and some rebels and refugees say it’s time for the most elite defectors – including dozens of officers and more than 25 generals – to go home and fight.

“Why does an officer defect? He defects in order to protect the nation,” Baraa, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, told The Associated Press. He asked that only his first name be published, fearing for the safety of his family in Syria. “They should go into Syria and let the revolution benefit from their long years of experience.”

Commanders of the FSA in Turkey say they are hardly sitting idle and have been directing the fight inside Syria – and that Turkey is a secure place to do it from. Unfair or not, the criticism reflects a tension over who has real credibility to claim the revolt’s leadership among the Syrian opposition, which includes multiple militias on the ground, politicians who live in exile and now defectors from some of the upper levels of Assad’s military. If the revolt ever succeeds in ousting Assad, those tensions could fuel a divisive power struggle among the winners.

Thousands of Syrian soldiers, most of them low-level conscripts, have deserted and joined the rebels since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. The higher echelons of Assad’s military have stayed largely intact, which makes those generals and senior officers who did break away and are now in Turkey important sources of information and expertise for the rebellion.

Even if they are active in planning and direction, there is a perception among refugees and even some in the FSA that those who were in the military’s officer corps – and used to its perks – are happy to stay in Turkey, while the former conscripts and Syrian civilians who took up weapons and joined FSA-linked militias do the fighting. Most of those based in Turkey are mid-level officers ranging from lieutenants to colonels, staying in a camp separate from those housing the refugees.

Al Jazeera has an interactive chart tracking Syrian defections of senior military officials, members of parliament and diplomats who quit Assad’s regime

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