US Intelligence: Assad 'Strengthens' Power

Image: US Intelligence: Assad 'Strengthens' Power Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, listens as CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 4.

Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 06:47 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Senior members of President Obama’s national security team painted a bleak picture of  the  situation in Syria Tuesday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that President Bashar Assad was growing stronger and that some of the jihadists fighting to overthrow him ultimately seek to target the United States.  

“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the al-Qaida organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability” to “use Syria as a launching pad” for such attacks, CIA Director John Brennan said.  

Brennan said there are jihadist camps in both Syria and Iraq that are being used by al-Qaida “to develop capabilities that are applicable, both in the [Mideast] theater, as well as beyond,” Fox News reported.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper  testified that Assad had benefited from an agreement to give up his chemical weapons arsenal and that his hold on power has “strengthened” during the past year.

Clapper’s statement came on a day when Syrian human-rights activists reported that government military forces’ helicopters dropped “barrel bombs” (explosives packed inside large containers such as oil drums) on Aleppo neighborhoods believed to be housing rebel fighters. Tuesday’s  barrel bombs in Syria’s most populous city  killed at least eight civilians, five of them children.  

There is growing concern in Congress and the Obama Administration that U.S. policy towards Syria is failing, The New York Times reported. American  officials say the Assad regime has blocked progress at peace talks that began last month in Geneva.

They add that the Syrian regime has prevented shipments of food and medicine to besieged areas and has dragged its feet on moving its most dangerous chemicals to the Mediterranean Sea port of Latakia so they can be taken out of the country and destroyed.

Their destruction was required under the agreement reached in September calling for Syria to relinquish its poison-gas arsenal. Damascus agreed to do this following President Obama’s threat to target the Syrian regime if Assad did not give up his chemical weapons.
Critics say the negotiations will achieve little unless Assad is weakened militarily. But with Moscow and Tehran funneling arms to Damascus and Washington providing only limited support to parts of the opposition, the Syrian strongman feels little pressure to make concessions.

Clapper testified Tuesday that Assad had grown stronger over the past year “by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons.”

President Obama has hailed the deal as an important diplomatic accomplishment. During last week’s State of the Union address, he cited it as an example of his foreign policy’s effectiveness.

But other experts “say that the agreement may ultimately work to Mr. Assad’s advantage, as it prompted the Obama administration to withdraw its threat to carry out cruise missile attacks, has built up the Syrian government credibility on the world stage and has allowed it to play for time,” according to the Times.

Clapper said Tuesday that the violence could continue indefinitely, resulting in a  stalemate “where neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail.”

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