A handout picture obtained from Ammon News and supplied by Syrian activists shows the Syrian air force Russian-made MiG-21 plane that a pilot landed with in the King Hussein military base in Mafraq in northern Jordan on June 21, 2012. – AFP PHOTO

WASHINGTON: The United States Thursday welcomed the defection of a Syrian fighter pilot to Jordan as a “courageous” act and a “significant moment” in the 16-month conflict in Syria.

“This is how these things start,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, after a pilot landed his Syrian air force Russian-made MiG in Jordan earlier in the day.

“It is obviously a significant moment when a guy takes a $25 million plane and flies it to another country.”Nuland said US officials had been in touch with the Jordanian government, which had confirmed that a Syrian MiG had landed in Jordan with the pilot on board. He had requested and been granted political asylum.

The White House said the Syrian pilot would not be the last person to do the “right thing” and desert Damascus's armed forces. The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has denounced the pilot of the MiG fighter plane as a “traitor” and demanded the jet be returned.

“We welcome this pilot's decision to do the right thing,” US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told AFP.

“We have long called for the military and members of the Syrian regime to defect and abandon their positions rather than be complicit in the regime's atrocities.

“This is just one of countless instances where Syrians, including members of the security forces, have rejected the horrific actions of the Assad regime, and certainly it will not be the last.”The US believed hundreds of troops had already defected from the ranks, Nuland said, adding the pilot's act was “extremely courageous.”A Jordan Armed Forces statement said the Syrian air force Russian-made MiG landed in the country at 0745 GMT.

Jordan's council of ministers then decided to grant the pilot, Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade, political asylum, Information Minister Samih Maaytah told

Updated Jun 21, 2012 06:48pm

Comments (0) (Closed)