Out of Syria -- With Trepidation

When I read and wrote about the defection of Syrian Air Force pilot Col. Hassan Hammadeh with his MiG-21 jet fighter to Jordan, several questions came to mind -- questions which I am sure readers have also pondered.

In view of what the brutal al-Assad regime would surely do to his family, did the pilot arrange for his family to leave Syria beforehand?

Even if he had been able to arrange a safe haven for his immediate family, how about other relatives, close friends?

What happens to their homes and property they leave behind?

How about the dangers of being shot down on the way out, or of being viewed as an attacking aircraft by Jordanian air defenses and getting shot down upon entering Jordanian airspace?

Similar questions, except for the aircraft interception risks, can be raised in the case of those who defect by land, especially high-ranking military officers and government officials. The most recent examples are Syrian Army Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass and Syria's ambassador to Iraq -- albeit the latter defected while already abroad.

I am sure there are many more questions and issues.

The Washington Post this weekend presents the story of one such defector, Syrian helicopter pilot Ahmad Trad, who escaped from Syria last month -- how some of those questions weighed heavily on his mind and of the dangers and difficulties of defecting.

To be clear, Trad did not take his helicopter with him but, rather, armed with fake military leave papers he escaped by bus and by taxi from Aleppo to Turkey, preceded by "a car driven by friends went ahead, to alert them of checkpoints. By nightfall, they were picking their way across a minefield toward the border, guided by rebels," according to the Star Tribune.

His defection took months of careful planning, intrigue, deception and even the ruse of a fake romantic affair to throw off those who were surely observing him and monitoring his every move.

Probably the biggest concern was the safety of his family and those left behind.

The Post:

He also confronted the dilemma that he and other defectors say is the biggest deterrent to those who would like to abandon the Syrian regime but have not yet dared: the safety of his family. Slipping away from his base was one thing, but it was just as important for Trad, 30, to make sure his relatives would not be targeted for revenge attacks once he was gone.

Part of the preparations for the escape included reaching out to Free Syrian Army rebels across the Turkish border to see if they would help ferry the whole family across. "The rebels agreed, but first they wanted proof that Trad was genuine and not a regime infiltrator."

To prove his loyalty, Trad became a spy for the Free Syrian Army, passing information about military operations and names of helicopter pilots taking part in combat missions.

Finally the successful escape.

Today, living in an apartment in the Turkish town of Altınözü with his family -- fifteen of them -- Trad has put his name on a waiting list eager to be assigned to a Free Syrian Army battalion.

He says, according to the Post, "There's a huge number of pilots I know who want to defect. The air force in the beginning was sidelined, but after it started getting involved, a lot of people started thinking about defecting."

And his wife, who is pregnant?

"I only wish I could join the Free Syrian Army, too," she says, according to the Post.

This is one defection story that thus far has ended well.

However, we don't know the fate of the families of the hundreds of other Syrian military personnel who have defected and we don't know how many have failed in their attempts to escape this brutal regime and what their fate was.

Thus, questions remain.

Read the rest of this fascinating and inspiring story here.