Islamist rebels would gain sway in long Syrian war: U.S. official

ASPEN, Colo. Sat Jul 20, 2013 11:39pm EDT

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ASPEN, Colo. (Reuters) - - Radical Islamist rebels will gain sway over the many disparate factions opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unless they are checked, and the country's civil war could last years, a top Pentagon intelligence official said on Saturday.

David Shedd, the deputy director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, did not advocate any form of intervention by the United States or its allies, saying that was up to policymakers.

But his bleak assessment of the dangers posed by the Islamist al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda's Iraq-based wing, as well as the prospects for a prolonged conflict, could bolster advocates of greater involvement by the United States and its allies.

Addressing the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Shedd said he counted at least 1,200 groups in the opposition. He said many of the groups were preoccupied with strictly local grievances, like a lack of potable water in their villages.

"Left unchecked, I'm very concerned that the most radical elements will take over larger segments" of the opposition groups, Shedd said, strongly hinting at the need for some kind of outside intervention.

He said the conflict could drag on anywhere "from many, many months to multiple years," and that a prolonged stalemate could leave open parts of Syria to potential control by radical fighters.

"They will not go home when it's over," Shedd said, envisioning one scenario where Assad retreats to an enclave and other parts of the country are up for grabs. "They will fight for that space, and they're there for the long haul."

Shedd added he and the DIA never thought Assad's regime would fall quickly - comments that appeared to stand in contrast to predictions by U.S. officials a year ago that Assad's days were numbered.

"DIA's position was that (Assad's fall) was no earlier than the start of this year. And it's obviously not happened," he said.

ARMING THE REBELS

U.S. plans to ship weapons to some rebels have been caught in a Washington impasse, after some members of Congress feared they would end up in the hands of Islamist militants.

Asked whether he thought more secular opposition fighters should be strengthened, or whether more radical rebel groups need somehow to be confronted, Shedd said: "I think it's too simple to say it's one or the other."

"Because it's the reality that left unchecked they will become bigger," he said, cautioning that the al-Nusra Front was gaining in strength and was "a case of serious concern."

Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army(FSA) and Islamists, whose smaller but more effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria more than two years after pro-democracy protests became an uprising. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people.

The two sides previously fought together from time to time, but the Western and Arab-backed FSA, desperate for greater firepower, has tried to distance itself from the Islamists to allay U.S. fears any arms it might supply could reach al Qaeda.

Shedd's comments came as FSA rebels vent frustration at what they see as the slow pace of Western support. Britain, for example, has abandoned plans to arm rebels.

Shedd acknowledged identifying "good" versus "bad" rebels was very difficult.

"But I think (it is) a challenge that is well worth pursuing," he said.

Asked how the United States could avoid getting sucked into the conflict, Shedd said: "I believe relying on allies in the region is our best solution."

"We know that a number of the Gulf states have great concerns with the Bashar al-Assad regime. And I think that there are a number, and a sizeable number, of allies that would be prepared to work even more closely with us," he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Comments (5)
oxen wrote:
USA army leaders, intelligence and political leaders all trying to be politically correct. Note: Before NATO invaded Libya there was no Al-Qaeda, but after the relentless merciless bombings the Al-Qaeda was all over the place. In Syria it was peaceful for many decades, but when State department and other NATO gave Qatar and Saudi Arabia to let hell lose in Syrian,extremists and Al-Qaeda were shipped in from Libya, Afghanistan and beyond. The bottom line NATO is fanning the chaos, even after the rebels win(if they do) like in Egypt, there will be a coup -orchestrated and they will be removed till a truly puppet regime is in place like in Egypt. The best solution for Syria is the peace conference where Assad regime can discuss to share power with the moderate opposition–but that required the West to weed out the extremists from their rebels side. US/NATO invading Syria will just cause more suffering to the population and will yield another failing state like Iraq with very weak governance and control-unless that is the goal!.

Jul 20, 2013 12:12am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
“Islamist rebels would gain sway in long Syrian war: U.S. official”

This US official from Wyoming has no clue what he’s talking about. US officials do not know nothing about Syria. At this time there is not even ONE US citizen living in Syria. I do not understand why US officials are commenting about Syria. Not a single US citizen living in the US cares about Syrians. For many years the US has never cared about Syria and Syria has never cared about the US. So the US needs to take its regime-change business elsewhere maybe to Saud Arabia where it’s badly needed.

Jul 21, 2013 1:20am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
More interesting news according to voltairenet.

“While Western states sang their refrain of “Bashar must go!” and plugged the overthrow of the Syrian regime as inevitable, various military leaders were selling their stockpiles of weapons to the rebels before fleeing to Europe or the United States.

Before the evident failure of the West, this trend has currently reversed.

Thus, Hezbollah concluded in late June and early July, two major transactions with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army. In particular, the Lebanese Resistance acquired anti tank and Russian-made RPG missiles that the rebels had received from Saudi Arabia. The second transaction was pulled off at a very low price ($ 1 million), before the “rebels” scrammed to the West with their loot.”

This probably explains why Britain and the US Congress have decided not to arm “rebels”

Jul 21, 2013 1:41am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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