CIA begins sizing up Islamic extremists in Syria for drone strikes..Assad issues a worldwide plea
The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.
President Obama has not authorized drone missile strikes in Syria, however, and none are under consideration.
The Counterterrorism Center, which runs the CIA’s covert drone killing program in Pakistan and Yemen, recently shifted several targeting officers to improve intelligence collection on militants in Syria who could pose a terrorist threat, the officials said.
The targeting officers have formed a unit with colleagues who were tracking Al Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq. U.S. officials believe that some of these operatives have moved to Syria and joined Islamic militias battling to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
The CIA effort, which involves assembling detailed dossiers on key militants, gives the White House both lethal and nonlethal options if it concludes that Syria’s 2-year-old civil war — which has caused 70,000 deaths, according to United Nations estimates — is creating a haven for terrorists. The intelligence files also could be used to help opposition figures with moderate views prevail over extremists.
The targeting is part of an array of CIA and Pentagonresponses and contingency plans as the Syrian bloodletting steadily worsens, threatening regional stability. Other proposals include plans to seize or destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, which are closely monitored by U.S. intelligence, to prevent their misuse.
The targeting officers focusing on Syria are based at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., officials said. The agency has not deployed many American operatives into the war zone, but it works closely with Saudi, Jordanian and other regional spy services active there. CIA officers meet with Syrian rebel leaders in Turkey and Jordan, current and former officials say.
Instead, Mr. Assad’s government went on the political offensive, calling on Brazil, China, India and other developing powers to help stop the Syrian conflict and find a political solution to the uprising.
Protests across Syria to observe the uprising’s two-year anniversary were small and muted compared with the exuberant demonstrations that initially set off the revolt, underscoring the growing sense that the war is nowhere near an end. The government remains dug in and is willing to use extreme force, and a political solution appears remote.
The request for political support from developing nations came in a letter delivered by an Assad adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, to the president of South Africa, who is hosting a meeting next week of the so-called Brics nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
As Europe and the United States weigh stronger action to aid the Syrian rebels, including directly arming them, Mr. Assad appeared to be appealing to those nations’ aversion to Western military interventions.
Before the uprising, Ms. Shaaban portrayed herself as an advocate for reform and modernization, but she has rarely been seen since she offered her support for the security forces during the early days of the crackdown.
The uprising began peacefully, but elements of the opposition eventually took up arms after security forces fired on protesters.
escalation continues..drones next in syria..assad appealing to the BRICS for support .and he may get some tacit help but its really only russia at this stage who are holding firm..the west dont dare push to hard whilst the bear is watching closely..if he wasnt this would have been libya all over again a long time ago..