US praises Syrian pilot for defecting with his MiG

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland commended the Syrian defector

Published June 21, 2012 7:10PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is praising a Syrian fighter pilot for flying his MiG-21 warplane to Jordan and asking for political asylum.

Col. Hassan Hammadeh’s defection is the first by an air force pilot with his plane in the 16-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland and Pentagon spokesman George Little say the U.S. has long called for members of the Syrian military to refuse orders that might endanger civilians. She says there have been “hundreds” of defections so far, mainly lower and middle-ranking officials.

Nuland called Hammadeh “very courageous” for leaving on a plane worth some $25 million. Both called for more defections.

The air force had been considered fiercely loyal to Assad’s regime. The defection suggests some allegiances may be fraying.

By Bradley Klapper

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