WASHINGTON – The United States Thursday welcomed the defection of a Syrian fighter pilot to Jordan as a “courageous” act and a “significant moment” in the 16-month conflict in Syria.
“This is how these things start,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, after a pilot landed his Syrian air force Russian-made MiG in Jordan earlier in the day. “It is obviously a significant moment when a guy takes a $25 million plane and flies it to another country.”
Nuland said US officials had been in touch with the Jordanian government, which had confirmed that a Syrian MiG had landed in Jordan with the pilot on board.
He had requested and been granted political asylum.
The White House said the Syrian pilot would not be the last person to do the “right thing” and desert Damascus’s armed forces.
The Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad has denounced the pilot of the MiG fighter plane as a “traitor” and demanded the jet be returned.
“We welcome this pilot’s decision to do the right thing,” US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told AFP.
“We have long called for the military and members of the Syrian regime to defect and 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 horrific actions of the Assad regime, and certainly it will not be the last.”
The US believed hundreds of troops, mostly from the middle to lower ranks, had already defected, Nuland said, adding the pilot’s act was “extremely courageous.”
Many of the defectors had “simply melted away,” others had been given refuge in other countries and while some had chosen to take up arms and fight the Assad regime.
“Those members of the military, particularly senior members of the military who continue to obey orders, who continue to lead the regime’s bloody offensives against its own people, need to think hard about the fact that accountability is coming,” Nuland added.
A Jordan Armed Forces statement said the Syrian air force Russian-made MiG landed in the country at 0745 GMT.
Jordan’s council of ministers then decided to grant the pilot, Colonel Hassan Merei Al-Hamade, political asylum, Information Minister Samih Maaytah said.
According to Syrian state television, authorities had “lost contact with a MiG-21 while it was on a training mission.” “The plane was near the southern border of Syria when contact was lost at around 10:34 am (0734 GMT),” it said. – AFP