In mid-December 2012, I spoke with a defected Syrian general now helping lead opposition forces from outside the country. He wished that I withhold his name but wanted to get the word out about what is going on in Syria after months of bloody revolution that have seen many top-ranking officials such as himself leave Bashar al-Assad's armed forces out of principle. Here are highlights of our discussion.
On whether Assad's fall was imminent:
"I would say he's definitely gone and the regime is falling day after day. He's 75 percent gone," the general said, adding that in his palace "he cannot leave for one meter."
On who's left around Assad:
"Surrounding the president, intelligence is still with him. The soldiers are not quite understanding what's going on. If the opposition was granted a good discipline, were really backed by a good strategy and armaments there wouldn't be anything left of the government. If we did have a good strategy from the beginning I tell you there wouldn't be any military fighting at this point." Assad, he added, "doesn't trust anybody" by this point, and the government in Damascus has "no more value to it -- it just exists."
On the use of chemical weapons:
"[Assad] will use everything including the chemical weapons -- don't doubt about that, he will use everything. I hope and God is my witness that the solution will come as a political solution. I tell you why -- there will be a tragedy. I cannot imagine what will be used. He's not going to leave alive. ...It's a very, very, very important problem -- we're seeing them going toward Lebanon [to Hezbollah], which is an extremely dangerous situation that we should be very aware of. Very extremely dangerous."
On reports of extremists in the opposition:
"I would like to give you my word of honor and to all the American public that there is no presence of al-Qaeda in Syria. We are very conservative people whether Muslim or Christian, Alawi, everything that you look at it's coming from the people. It's the people, your regular people from the street, fighting. Even Salafi -- we talk about somebody who prays or is more conservative in his religion. We're not talking about the same people as we read in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The revolution, it's coming from the people, it is your common person who is fighting. ...We want peace. Please don't stick to us any kind of labels to us."
On Russian support of the Assad regime:
"Yes to the United States, yes to Europe, and no to Russians -- we don't want to deal with anything or anyone coming from this part of the world."
On what the international community can do:
"If they decide to help us militarily -- by air or any way -- to help getting rid of this present regime it's very welcome. If it's not going to happen this way, let them give us the weapons to get rid of the last bastion of the regime. It's something above description, the crimes that are happening. They're like animals, like a beast on a rampage -- there is no conscience there. I wish you guys can do something, give us everything that will empower us to get rid of this regime. Don't be afraid that we're going to keep those weapons and one day invade the neighbors -- we'll give you the last weapon after we take over the power."