Obama administration ‘ready to accelerate’ efforts to remove Assad

The administration hopes international support for the Syrian opposition will tip the balance in the conflict

From Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper, the New York Times:  The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama’s national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, in part to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The White House is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans — including safeguarding Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities — in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, the capital, and the killing of Mr. Assad’s key security aides in a bombing attack. . . .

Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.

By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels’ recent battlefield successes.

“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior Obama administration official said Friday. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict.

Senior administration officials say the changes are in response to a series of setbacks at the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has staunchly refused to engineer the removal of Mr. Assad, as well as the turmoil that has left the Syrian government reeling, at least for the moment. . . .

This month, Syria started moving parts of its huge stockpile of chemical weapons out of storage, drawing stern warnings from American officials not to use them or face unstated consequences. Some American intelligence officials said later that the movements were most likely a precaution as security conditions across the country rapidly deteriorated.

“It’s going to take an international effort when Assad falls — and he will fall — in order to secure these weapons,” Adm. William H. McRaven, the head of the military’s Special Operations forces, told Congress in March.   (photo: Reuters)

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