WASHINGTON – The top US envoy to Syria warned on Thursday that extremists were
gaining influence in the Syrian opposition and that this influence would only
increase the longer fighting dragged on in the Levant country.
Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, speaking to the Foundation for Defense of
Democracies, described extremist groups that had “little by little been gaining
influence among the armed opposition.” He pointed particularly to an al-Qaida
affiliate in Iraq that is now operating in Syria.
which are still a minority among the opposition, pose “an obstacle to finding
the political solution that Syria needs,” he said.
However, he stressed,
America sees a political solution as the only way to resolve the violence in
Syria – one in which President Bashar Assad plays no role.
To that end,
the United States has been working with a newly formed umbrella group, which
represents Syrians in the opposition both inside and outside of the country, to
forge a political transition in the war-torn nation.
Ford assessed that
keeping this group unified was essential to diminishing the chance for outside
actors to exploit difference, work one side against another and otherwise
exercise influence in a new Syria.
“If we can keep these Syrian leaders
united, I think there will be less chance for Iran, Russia, and other pernicious
actors – Hezbollah, for example – to intervene in their typically negative way,”
He also reiterated the US warning about any use of chemical
weapons, amid signs that Assad was making preparations to do so.
to be very clear to the Syrian government: As its situation deteriorates, they
must not think about deploying these things. They must not deploy them,” he
emphasized, saying such an action would cross red lines for America and the
broader international community.
“The use of those weapons is for us a
qualitatively different situation, and frankly countries in the region also view
it that way, so it will change our calculations in a fundamentally different
way,” he warned.
That Assad might be contemplating using chemical weapons
is, according to many analysts, a sign of a last-ditch effort on his part to
stave off an increasingly certain defeat.
Ford added his assessment that
Assad’s days in power were numbered.
“The armed opposition groups... have
made substantial gains on the ground over the past weeks,” he said, pointing to
their control of eastern parts of the country, the Kurdish areas, and most of
the border along Turkey and Iraq.
“It’s very clear that the regime’s
forces are being ground down and that they are losing,” he said. “The writing is
on the wall.”
But Ford noted that Assad’s forces continued to maintain
“They still have some fight left in them, even though they
are losing,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that I expect there will be substantial
fighting in the days ahead.”