"A year into the uprising in Syria, senior U.S. intelligence officials described the nation’s president, Bashar al-Assad, on Friday as firmly in control and ... also said Assad’s inner circle is “remaining steadfast,” with little indication that senior figures in the regime are inclined to peel off, despite efforts by the Obama administration and its allies to use sanctions and other measures to create a wave of defections that would undermine Assad. .... Assad “is very much in charge,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for tracking the conflict, adding that Assad and his inner circle seem convinced that the rebellion is being driven by external foes and that they are equipped to withstand all but a large-scale military intervention.... McClatchy's has the longer version of the assessment (must have been hard for the WaPo to digest):
"..."Our sense is right now he's very much in charge," of their military operations, one U.S. official said. Another noted, "He (Assad) might survive this." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.The intelligence assessments run counter to a message voiced with confidence for months by senior administration officials including President Barack Obama, who told a White House news conference on Tuesday that "ultimately, this dictator will fall."Perhaps more fundamentally, the analysis calls into question an American foreign policy that has been based on the idea that Assad's regime is overwhelmed and doomed.The officials said the regime’s tactics have taken a more aggressive turn, and ... they described Syria as a formidable military power, with 330,000 active-duty soldiers, surveillance drones supplied by Iran and a dense network of air defense installations that would make it difficult for the United States or other powers to establish a no-fly zone.“This is an army that was built for a land war with the Israelis,” said a second senior U.S. intelligence official. After the regime hesitated to attack civilian population centers earlier in the conflict, its “restraint . . . has been lifted,” the official said....So far, the officials said, the bloodiest attacks against the regime appear to have been carried out by al-Qaeda elements seeking to slip unannounced into opposition groups that do not seem eager to have any affiliation with the terrorist network.... “That network is still there,” said the first U.S. intelligence official, who acknowledged that the size and composition of the al-Qaeda presence in Syria is unclear. Some al-Qaeda members may be Syrian, others Iraqis..."
"... start a serious military operation to topple the government.
This would mean a Libya-style coalition air campaign but shouldn’t require many boots on the ground. Western air power could make short work of Mr. Assad’s army: though often described as formidable, the Syrian military is having trouble completely suppressing the rebels and could never withstand a sustained outside onslaught. After all, Saddam Hussein’s much feared and much bigger army dissolved quickly in the face of American firepower...."
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