C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition

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Editor’s Note – The trouble is, which group is getting aid? This story was just verified by Fox News and many other outlets:

By ERIC SCHMITT – NY Times

WASHINGTON — A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.

American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.

The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters. President Obama and his top aides are seeking to pressure Russia to curb arms shipments like attack helicopters to Syria, its main ally in the Middle East.

“We’d like to see arms sales to the Assad regime come to an end, because we believe they’ve demonstrated that they will only use their military against their own civilian population,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said after Mr. Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Mexico on Monday.

Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal.

Until now, the public face of the administration’s Syria policy has largely been diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

The State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St. Petersburg, Russia, next Thursday. The private talks are likely to focus, at least in part, on the crisis in Syria.

The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like medical supplies and communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria.

The Pentagon continues to fine-tune a range of military options, after a request from Mr. Obama in early March for such contingency planning. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at that time that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military, and the establishment of a no-fly zone.

The military has also drawn up plans for how coalition troops would secure Syria’s sizable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if an all-out civil war threatened their security.

Read the rest here.

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Obama to Syrian Rebels: “You’re On Your Own”

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Syrian opposition official says there “isn’t an appetite” for a U.S. military intervention

By JOHN T. BENNETT – US News

The Obama administration has made clear in closed-door meetings that it will not take additional measures to aid Syrian rebels, even as Bashir al-Assad escalates an already bloody civil conflict.

Assad’s military forces in recent days have massed tanks around key cities and fired into Turkey, allegedly killing two and injuring 21 Syrians trying to cross the border. A journalist also was reportedly killed by gunfire on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

[See pictures of the violence in Syria.]

All those moves came within days and hours of a Thursday morning cease-fire deadline negotiated by the United Nations.

“We’re not getting one ounce of an impression that that’s going to be the case,” says Muna Jondy, a Syrian opposition official, when asked if the White House is preparing to get involved. “There just isn’t an appetite to get involved right now. And I don’t think that’s going to be changing.”

In private meetings with the Obama administration, opposition groups have urged U.S. officials to resist public remarks stating definitively that America will not get involved in the fighting.

“We say to them, ‘Can you just not say that out loud,'” Jondy says. “Can’t you at least say the Pentagon is drawing up some options?”

White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor listed in a statement to U.S. News & World Report the things the administration is doing about the bloody Syrian conflict. None even came close to providing heavy arms to the rebels or getting directly involved in the fighting.

“Our focus continues to be on pressing for an immediate cessation of violence by the regime, working to facilitate the unfettered access to those in need of humanitarian and relief supplies, enhancing our support for the opposition, and providing mechanisms for accountability for regime abuses,” Vietor says. “In the meantime, we will continue to cut off the regime from its resources.”

Such rhetoric might open the door for opposition forces, or at least lead Assad to tamp down the brutality. Under the U.N. deal, Assad’s forces are to leave cities by Tuesday evening, and both sides are to stop fighting by 6 a.m. Thursday.

“Right now, he knows the world has said it is not going to do anything,” Jondy says. “Assad knows that when the six o’clock deadline comes and goes, it’s meaningless. What does 6:15 mean? What does 7 a.m. mean? Nothing.”

She noted the Syrian strongman in recent months ignored a cease-fire plan fashioned by the African Union.

The Obama administration and U.S. allies in the region have supplied opposition forces with humanitarian aid and some military hardware, such as satellite radios and other communications gear. But senior administration officials have said during public remarks and, sources say, in private sessions that they will not be providing rebel forces with weapons with which to fight Assad loyalists.

Administration officials for months have said adding more military firepower to the yearlong conflict–during which the U.N. contends 9,000 people have died–will only make things worse for opposition forces and Syrian citizens. They also say they remain unsure just who composes the opposition forces, and what kind of regime would follow an ousted Assad.

Even while satellite images show Assad is not pulling back his tanks, administration officials continue giving no indication they are prepared to step up the U.S. engagement there militarily–even if Assad ignores the Thursday cease-fire deadline.

To the dismay of opposition leaders, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that Washington plans to “continue to use the U.N., where we believe it’s going to be effective.”

The U.S. and its allies have encountered turbulence using the United Nations before, with Russia and China blocking measures aimed at placing economic pressure on Assad.

But, in a twist, Washington–not Moscow nor Beijing–has proven a “big roadblock,” Jondy says.

“Russia was a convenient thing for the U.S. to hide behind while it watched how things were playing out,” says Jondy. “I just know when the [U.S.] government wants something to happen, the U.S. government makes that thing happen.”

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Ignatius – Ousting Syria’s Assad through a ‘soft landing’

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By  – Washington Post

Maybe it’s time for Syrian revolutionaries to take “yes” for an answer from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and back a U.N.-sponsored “managed transition” of power there, rather than rolling on toward a civil war that will bring more death and destruction for the region.The Assad government announced Tuesday that it was ready to accept a peace plan proposed by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. The Syrian announcement in Beijing followed endorsement of the plan by China and Russia. The proposal has many weaknesses, but it could open the way toward a “soft landing” in Syria that would remove Assad without shattering the stability of the country.

Yes, I recognize that moderate diplomatic solutions like these are for wimps. The gung-ho gang has been advocating supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, setting up no-fly zones and other versions of a military solution. Morally, it’s hard to dispute the justice of the opposition’s cause; the problem is that these military solutions will get a lot more innocent civilians killed and destroy the delicate balance of the Syrian state.

We should learn from recent Middle East history and seek a non-military solution in Syria — even with the inevitable fuzziness and need for compromise with unpleasant people. A Syria peace deal will also give a starring role to Russia and China, two countries that don’t deserve the good press. That’s okay with me: Vladimir Putin gets a ticker-tape parade if he can help broker a relatively peaceful departure for Assad.

The case for this cautious, managed transition can be summarized with a four-letter word: Iraq.

Looking back at the Iraq war, one of the most damaging mistakes was that after toppling Saddam Hussein, the United States went on to destroy Iraq’s state structure and its army. Without these institutions, the country had no stability, and Iraqis retreated for self-protection to the most basic loyalties of sect and tribe. In this sense, the U.S. invasion unintentionally and tragically sent Iraq hurtling backward in time. Iraq gained a measure of “democracy” but lost social cohesion.

The United States shouldn’t make the same mistake in Syria, no matter how appealing the opposition’s pleas for weapons. We’ve seen this movie before. We know that it leads to a kind of lawlessness that’s very hard to reverse. And we know, too, that for all the perversions of Assad and his Baathist goons, the Syrian state and army are national institutions that transcend the ruling family, his Alawite sect or the corrupt Baathists who hijacked the nation in the 1960s.

I credit the Obama administration for resisting the growing chorus of calls to arm the Syrian rebels — and for continuing to seek Moscow’s help even after the Russians’ foot-dragging that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (imprudently but accurately) described last month as “despicable.”

It’s a moment for realpolitik: The West needs Russia’s help in removing Assad without a civil war, and Russia needs to broker a transition to bolster its future influence in the Arab world. That’s the pragmatic logic that’s driving Annan’s peace effort.

Political change (even the cautious, managed-transition version I’m urging) won’t come to Syria without some bloodshed. Over the past year, it has been one-sided, with perhaps 10,000 opposition fighters and civilians slaughtered by Assad’s forces, and there’s bound to be some settling of scores. Friends of Syria should start thinking about ways to prevent reprisals against the Alawite and Christian communities that have been loyal to the regime, once Assad is on a plane for Doha or Moscow. I hope Annan will reach out to religious leaders of these minority communities to offer them reassurance they won’t be massacred if Assad goes.

The alternative to a diplomatic soft landing is a war that shatters the ethnic mosaic in Syria. It’s easy to imagine Sunni militias gaining control of central cities such as Homs, Hama and Idlib, while Alawites retreat to parts of Damascus and Latakia province in the north. Assad might still claim to be president in this scenario, but he would be little more than a warlord (albeit one with access to chemical weapons). It’s a grim scenario in which Western air power would have limited effect.

Patrick Seale, who probably knows Syria better than any other Western writer, captured in his biography of Assad’s father the brutal, fight-to-the-death code that led to the massacre in Hama 30 years ago: “Fear, loathing and a river of spilt blood ruled out any thought of a truce.” You can only pray that the same no-compromise logic doesn’t prevail today, on either side.

davidignatius@washpost.com

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