DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 26, 2012, 11:59 AM
British special forces on field mission
Unconfirmed first reports from British, French and Turkish sources say British special operations forces crossed from Turkey into northern Syria Tuesday, May 26, and advanced up to 10 kilometers inside the country. The same sources report heavy fighting around the Presidential Guards compound on the outskirts of Damascus.
DEBKAfile’s military sources note that this compound exists to defend Bashar Assad’s presidential palace on Mount Qaisoun overlooking Damascus.
British and Gulf TV stations are again running interviews with dozens of Syrian soldiers taken prisoner by rebel forces and transferred to Free Syrian Army centers in South Turkey. But this time, they are being aired in conjunction with those two developments, indicating pivotal and coordinated military action inside the embattled country, or even the start of western intervention against the Assad regime.
Later Tuesday, Gulf military sources confirmed the presence of British special forces in Syria.
Our military sources estimate that the British military drive into Syria, if confirmed, is designed to establish the first safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, to be followed by more Western military incursions to establish additional zones of safe asylum in other parts of Syria.
This follow-up action would depend substantially on Syrian, Russian and Iranian (+ Hizballah) responses to the initial stage of the operation.
The reported British incursion, if confirmed, occurred at the tail end of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 24-hour visit to Israel Tuesday morning and would have posed a direct challenge to his repeated warning that Moscow would not tolerate Western military intervention in Syria and actively prevent it. Similar warnings have issued from Tehran.
As for the timing, the double military drive against Assad also occurred hours before a NATO “consultation” in Brussels on the shooting down of a Turkish warplane by Syria last Friday, June 22, which Ankara stated Monday “must not go unpunished.”
The two-pronged operation – the reported British incursion and major clash at the front door of Assad’s presidential palace – would appear to be designed to widen the cracks in his regime and speed its final breakup.