Syrian army close to collapse:defecting top General

London/Washington: The days of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are numbered with his powerful army close to collapse, the country`s most senior defector has said, urging for an "urgent need for outside intervention".

Giving an insider`s view of the state of the regime, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has taken refuge in Turkey, said Assad`s army is close to a collapse, but warned that could plunge the Middle East into a "nuclear reaction".

In his first interview, the former top Syrian General told The Sunday Telegraph, "The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction."

The General`s grim picture of the happenings in Syria comes as US media reports said that all top Obama administration officials were now predicting that the Syrian regime`s downfall could be near.

Calling the bloodshed in Syria as "heartbreaking and inexcusable", US President Barack Obama has said that Assad will leave without an outside military shove, but he gave no indications when.

Though Obama ruled out a military action in Syria, White House officials say western nations are in touch with Syrian groups in exile to formulate ways and means to help them protect themselves from the regime`s forces.

US media reports said the proposals included declaring a no-fly zone over Syria on the pattern of Libya and arming the rebels. The defecting Syrian General told the British paper that situation in his country was fast running out of hand and said the solution lied with an effective outside intervention.

Foreseeing a collapse of the army in the next few weeks, al-Sheikh said the estimated 330,000-men army was facing desertions from Sunni officers forcing Assad to rely on loyalists from his own Alawite minority.

"Sunni officers are fleeing. Or are under house arrest or at best marginalised and distrusted," the General said, adding that the bulk of military`s 4,500 tanks and 500 aircrafts were not combat ready due to shortage of spare parts.

"The Syrian army combat readiness I would put at 40 per cent for hardware and 32 per cent for personnel. They are sending in elements from the Shabiha (militia) and the Alawite sect to compensate, but this army is unable to continue more than a month. Some elements of the army are reaching out to the FSA (Free Syrian Army) to help them to defect."

He said Assad was finding it hard even to maintain a tight grip on the towns and suburbs around Damascus, some of which have driven out the army for periods in recent weeks, which has led to a reassessment of his forces` unity.

Branding that the Assad`s army had become a "crazy killing machine", the highest ranking Syrian defector said that without a solution within a fortnight "the whole region will flare up".

"The region is strained to the limits because of the role of Iran," he said. "The Syrian regime has helped transform it into a base for Iranian conspiracies." He said that some of the possible solutions – buffer zones, humanitarian corridors – were no longer relevant, even in the unlikely event of United Nations security council backing.

"There is no time. There is a serious acceleration under way due to the collapse of the army and the security system. We want very urgent intervention, outside of the security council due to the Russian veto. We want a coalition similar to what happened in Kosovo and the Ivory Coast," he said.