Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the opposition Syrian National Council is emerging as an alternative to the Bashar al-Assad regime and that the consensus opinion among Arab League and other nations is that the group is a credible representative. Diplomats tell CNN that the opinion will be reflected in the communique to be issued from the Friends of Syria conference on Friday in Tunisia.
The Obama administration has been conflicted about the opposition. Just last week, top intelligence and military officials spoke of how undefined the opposition is. But it seems the U.S. is moving towards supporting the opposition even with concerns about who they are comprised of.
The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony that the opposition is “fractured” and “localized.” Clapper said the Syrian National Council doe not have command over the opposition groups noting that another entity, the Free Syrian Army, is not connected.
“There is not a national movement, even though there is a – a title of – the Syrian National Council, but a lot of that is from external, exiles and the like. But there is not a unitary connected opposition force. It’s very local. It’s on a community by community basis,” Clapper said. “In fact in some communities, the opposition is actually providing municipal services as though it’s running the community and – and trying to defend itself against attacks from the Syrian regime controlled military.”
General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the group was not clearly defined.
“I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point,” Dempsey said.
Clapper, in the hearing last week, even warned the opposition has been infiltrated by Al Qaeda elements, maybe without the opposition knowing about it.
“Another disturbing phenomenon that we’ve seen recently apparently is the presence of extremists who have infiltrated the opposition groups. The opposition groups in many cases may not be aware they are there,” Clapper said.