Sunday 10 June 2012

Syria - Massive Missile Base Defection Reported

Today there's been a number of reports of what could turn out to be a very significant defection.  Around 2pm Syrian time a video started being posted claiming that air defence Battalion 743 near Talbiseh had defected.  You can see it on this map

The below video was posted along with the reports, and appears to show SA-2 missiles, which you can see arranged in a circle in the above map:
More details of the defection started to come in, as well as more videos.  HamaEcho Tweeted:
Entire battalion defects in Talbiseh. 743 Air Defence battalion, contains 10 officers including a colonel. 
As well as Tweeting another video from the missile base:
This video appears to show ammo crates being looted from the base
As well as a unmanned Shilka in the background
Syria Omar then put out a statement, as well as attaching videos (translated with thanks by troublejee):

Homs Aghannto :: Details :: Defection of air defense missile battalion - By the dawn of Sunday 10/06/02 the battalion 743 of brigade 72 of division 26 defected.
According to Captain Abdallah: "After secret communications between the FSA in Homs and the chief of the battalion it has been decided that the dawn of Sunday 10/06/12 would be the day of defection.  Multiple FSA units from different village surrounding battalion 743 provided secure defection.  Meanwhile the chief officer of the 743 battalion assembled the battalion members and spoke to them about the situation in Syria, and gave them the freedom to choose to eitehr join the FSA of go back home.

The battalion consists of 130 soliders and 10 officers.  On the day of defection there were only 35 soldiers and 5 officers.  22 soliders and 3 officers chose to go home, while 8 soldiers and 2 officers agreed to join the FSA.

The battalion's importance came from its role in defending the oil refinery in the city of Homs.  It holds SAM-6, SAM-7 and cobra missiles, as well as anti-aircraft armoured vechicles and other ammunition.  This battalion is also the supply centre to the Assad army in the city of Talbisa and Rastan, and other surrounding villages.

The FSA captured much ammunition and equipment, but the Assad regime sent their helicopters to bomb the battalion site and destroyed the defence system.  The battalion site was destroyed completely

Captain Ahmed Yousef explains what happened (Arabic)
The Syrian Army shelling and attacking the headquarters of the defecting battalion

The base burning after being attacked by Assad's forces
So it seems that not only did Assad lose control of the base, but they attacked it, probably in an attempt to prevent the FSA from using the ammo and missiles stored there.

What could be significant about this defection is it appears they may have captured some anti-aircraft weapons that they can use against helicopters attacking nearby cities, which is one of the main barriers to the FSA deploying armour against Assad's military.  How much equipment they actually captured is unknown, but we might start seeing reports of helicopters being down in the area in the coming days.

Update June 12th - Reuters had a piece on the defection, providing a few more details based on a video posted on Youtube which I'll hopefully have English subtitles for at some point.  The Guardian also posted satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch showing the area around the base apparently on fire after the bombardment by Assad's forces following the defection:

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