July 12, 2012


To Topple Assad, Unleash the CIA: Turkey and even Iraq's Kurds would help Syria's rebels if the U.S. showed it is serious. (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 7/11/12, WSJ)

Syria is predominantly Sunni Arab, with substantial rebellious Sunni communities throughout the country. Assad, who depends upon his Shiite Alawite minority (roughly 10%-15% of the population) for his military muscle, does not have the manpower for a multiple-front counterinsurgency.

A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime's border security wouldn't be hard. The regime's lack of manpower and Syria's geography--low-rising mountains, arid steppes and forbidding deserts--would likely make it vulnerable to the opposition, if the opposition had enough firepower. [...]

This Syrian action would not be a massive undertaking. Even when the CIA ramped up its aid to Afghan anti-Soviet forces in 1986-87, the numbers involved (overseas and in Washington) were small, at roughly two dozen. An aggressive operation in Syria would probably require more CIA manpower than that, but likely still fewer than 50 U.S. officers working with allied services.

Most importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has irreversibly broken with Assad. He has allowed the Syrian opposition increasing freedom of maneuver over the border, including the shipment of small amounts of weaponry. Mr. Erdogan may not require much White House suasion to support a larger, American-led paramilitary program, but he'll want to know whether Mr. Obama is "all in." In Jordan, where the CIA has its most intimate Arab liaison relationship and King Abdullah (with Saudi backing) has turned against Damascus, the U.S. would find a helpful partner.

And Iraqi Kurdistan, always eager for more U.S. officials on its soil, would likely give the CIA considerable leeway provided Washington promised to stand by the Kurds in any dispute with Baghdad and Tehran. Given the Kurds' concern about American staying power, this is a significant hurdle. Iraqi Kurds don't want their Syrian brothers, who have so far been hammered less than Syria's rebelling Sunni Arabs, to invite the wrath of Damascus if they lack the weaponry to defend themselves.
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Posted by at July 12, 2012 5:42 AM

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