Friday, July 26, 2013

Not even a year ago, German intelligence predicted Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad's regime would soon collapse. Now, the agency instead believes the rebels are in trouble. Government troops are set to make significant advances, it predicts

    Friday, July 26, 2013   No comments

Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has fundamentally changed its view of the ongoing civil war in Syria. SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that the BND now believes the Syrian military of autocrat Bashar Assad is more stable than it has been in a long time and is capable of undertaking successful operations against rebel units at will. BND head Gerhard Schindler informed select politicians of the agency's new assessment in a secret meeting.

It is a notable about-face. As recently as last summer, Schindler reported to government officials and parliamentarians that he felt the Assad regime would collapse early in 2013. He repeated the view in interviews with the media.
At the time, the BND pointed to the Syrian military's precarious supply situation and large numbers of desertions that included members of the officer core. German intelligence spoke of the "end phase of the regime."


Since then, however, the situation has changed dramatically, the BND believes. Schindler used graphics and maps to demonstrate that Assad's troops once again possess effective supply lines to ensure sufficient quantities of weapons and other materiel. Fuel supplies for tanks and military aircraft, which had proved troublesome, are once again available, Schindler reported. The new situation allows Assad's troops to combat spontaneous rebel attacks and even retake positions that were previously lost. The BND does not believe that Assad's military is strong enough to defeat the rebels, but it can do enough to improve its position in the current stalemate.


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David Shedd, No. 2 in the Defense Intelligence Agency, said yesterday that the Syrian civil war is now likely to continue for years, whatever Assad’s fate. The country faces the prospect of “unfathomable violence” and growing power there by Islamic radicals, including those allied with al-Qaeda, he said.
“My concern is that it can go on for a long time, as in many, many months to multiple years,” he said, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. “And the civilian casualties, the enormous flow of refugees and the dislocation and so forth and the human suffering associated with it will only increase in time.’‘
The United Nations estimates that more than 93,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war, which began with peaceful protests in March 2011. The fighting has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

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It was a only a few weeks ago, at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, that David Cameron was demanding the removal of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, claiming that he had “blood on his hands” and that it was “unthinkable” that he could play any part in Syria’s future. Yet it now seems increasingly likely that, far from being forced from office, President Assad will retain control of much of the country. Certainly the recent successes recorded by pro-Assad forces appear to have had a disastrous impact on the morale of rebel fighters, with hundreds deciding to take advantage of an amnesty offered by Damascus to surrender their weapons and give up the fight.
This remarkable turnaround is in part due to the unstinting backing Damascus has received from its allies, Russia and Iran, both in terms of military support and diplomatic cover – especially Moscow’s refusal to sanction any UN resolution authorising intervention. The rebels’ cause, meanwhile, has been undermined by constant infighting and attempts by Islamist militants to hijack the opposition agenda; the presence of fighters with links to al-Qaeda has been one of the main reasons why those who wanted to arm the rebels have grown more cautious.
Faced with the awful complexities of the Syrian insurrection, the West collectively decided that the costs of intervention were too high. That may well have been the right decision. But inaction has its costs, too. With President Assad and his backers in Moscow and Tehran looking increasingly confident, those powers that demanded his overthrow – such as Britain, France and the US – look impotent and weak. Rather than convening international conferences to consider Syria’s future, they must now start thinking about how to deal with a regime clinging tenaciously to power.

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