Reuters has taken U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the woodshed with an article stating that Kerry’s public assurances about the expanding influence of moderate Syrian opposition groups contradicts what U.S. and European intelligence sources, as well as other nongovernmental experts, are saying about the Syrian rebels: that “Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.”
The article comes on the heels of statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin calling Kerry’s testimony “lies” and “sad.”
The Reuters article, “Kerry portrait of Syria rebels at odds with intelligence reports,” is another blow to the Obama administration’s credibility on Syria, as the White House tries to sell a skeptical public on military intervention that would benefit the Syrian rebel forces.
During a hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Kerry if the Syrian opposition had been infiltrated by al Qaeda. Kerry responded:
The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria.
However, Reuters says that Kerry’s assessment is contradicted by recent intelligence reports that “have not changed.” In fact, those intelligence estimates show that extremist influence is growing.
As recently as late July, at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, estimated that there were at least 1,200 different Syrian rebel groups and that Islamic extremists, notably the Nusra Front, were well-placed to expand their influence.
While smaller in number, Reuters also points out that forces of the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front are “better organized, armed and trained.”
Other officials described a situation in Syria where extremists dominate parts of the country and the so-called moderates in other sections are more akin to criminals:
A European security official with experience in the region said that extremist rebel factions were so strong and well-organized in the north and west of Syria that they were setting up their own public services and trying to create an Islamic ministate along the Iraqi border.
By contrast, the more moderate rebel factions predominate in the east of Syria and along its southern border with Jordan but have largely devolved into “gangs” whose leaders are more interested in operating local rackets and enriching themselves than in forming a larger alliance that could more effectively oppose Assad’s government.
In response to criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Kerry “lies openly” about the influence of al Qaeda, officials the State Department told Fox News: “Needless to say, the Secretary of State testified truthfully and accurately to the Congress.”
President Obama arrives in Russia Thursday for the G-20 summit.