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Syria grounds fighter-bomber fleet for fear of more defections

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June 22, 2012

Syrian President Bashar Assad Thursday night, June 21, ordered his entire Air Force fleet of fighter bombers grounded, for fear that more pilots might defect after Col. Hasan Merhi al-Hamadeh flew to Jordan aboard a MiG-21.

Officials in Damascus noted that the same day was chosen by Washington to confirm that CIA officers were present in southern Turkey to help the Free Syrian Army rebels fight the Syrian government. Syrian officials are convinced that the defection of the pilot with his plane was organized by the Americans and that more are in the pipeline in an attempt to show the Syrian people and Arab world that even the Syrian air force, the part of the armed forces most loyal to Assad, was in fact slipping out of his hands.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that, early Thursday, Col, al-Hamadeh flew out of the Khalkhala air base, which is situated between the southern towns of Deraa and Suweida not far from the Druze Mountain.

While his MiG belonged to the 73rd Air Brigade, he was a member of the Syrian Air Force’s 20th Division and commander of the MiG-21 test squadron, which regularly inspects those aircraft at southern air bases to check if they are flight worthy.

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This article was posted: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 3:26 am

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