THE war in Syria poses the greatest threat to US security because of the risk of the government falling and the country becoming a weapons-rich haven for Al-Qaeda, a CIA official says.
CIA second-in-command Michael Morell gave the assessment in an interview published Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal as he prepares to retire after 33 years with the agency.
Morell said there are now more foreign fighters flowing into Syria each month to take up arms with Al Qaeda-affiliated groups than there were going to Iraq to fight with Al-Qaeda at the height of the war there.
The Syrian government’s weapons ‘are going to be up for grabs and up for sale’ as they were in Libya when Muammar Gadaffi fell, he added.
‘It’s probably the most important issue in the world today,’ he said of the war in Syria, ‘because of where it is currently heading’ – toward the fall of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to Morell.
Morell also said the violence in Syria has the potential to spill across borders into Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Morell told the Journal that second on his list was Iran, followed by the global Al-Qaeda threat, North Korea, and cyberwarfare.
On Al-Qaeda, he said the United States had ‘significantly degraded’ the group’s capabilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But the terror network has also scored victories, such as its dispersal, which he said has spread its ideology and global reach.
Morell will be replaced by Avril Haines, a 43-year-old White House lawyer.
Meanwhile, there is a completely different mood in Syria.
A mass wedding ceremony was held in Lattakia province for 15 soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army amidst huge popular and official presence.
A member of the Regional Leadership of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party, Khalaf al-Muftah, stressed that this ceremony is an expression of appreciation for the heroism of the Syrian brave soldiers who are confronting the armed terrorist groups and restoring security and stability to the homeland.
The grooms expressed their happiness over this wedding ceremony in which all people of the province took part, particularly under the current circumstances going on in Syria.
Everybody thoroughly enjoyed the celebrations.
• Syrian rebels suffered a deadly blow on Wednesday with 62 of them reported killed, as Amnesty International said parts of second city Aleppo have been devastated.
Government forces killed at least 62 insurgents in an ambush near Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The regime’s military said those killed were members of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front.
‘At least 62 rebels fell as martyrs, most of them youths, and eight others are missing after an ambush by regime forces at dawn near the industrial city of Adra’ northeast of Damascus, the monitoring group said.
A military source quoted by state news agency SANA said the ‘army carried out an ambush on a group of terrorists belonging to the Al-Nusra Front that was trying to infiltrate Eastern Ghouta and attack a military post.
‘All the terrorists were killed and their arms captured,’ the source added, without giving a toll.
Adra, 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Damascus, is the gateway to Eastern Ghouta, a farming region where a large number of rebels are based.
On July 21, 49 rebels were killed in fighting with loyalist forces in Adra, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International issued a report saying entire neighbourhoods of the northern city of Aleppo have been flattened over the past year, with residents bombed from the air and abused on the ground.
‘Aleppo has been utterly devastated, its people fleeing the conflagration in huge numbers,’ said Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera.
The report came as the London-based group released satellite images of several Aleppo districts, taken before and after clashes between government and rebel forces.
The images are part of an Amnesty analysis of the impact of the war on the northern city, which was Syria’s commercial hub.
They show ‘alarming trends in how the conflict is being fought: with utter disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law, causing extensive destruction, death, and displacement,’ Amnesty said.
Aleppo became a battleground in July last year, when opposition fighters in the neighbouring countryside staged an offensive.
Ever since, the city has fallen into a bloody stalemate, with much of eastern Aleppo in rebel hands and the west mostly under army control.
Daily battles are still being waged there, with loyalists supporting President Bashar al-Assad claiming that had re-taken most of the city.
Civilians living in opposition-controlled areas suffer daily from both government bombing raids and abuse at the hands of opposition groups, Amnesty said.
Many people displaced, especially to areas under rebel control, ‘receive little or no international aid, partly because they are in dangerous and difficult-to-access areas and also due to restrictions imposed by the Syrian government’.
Amnesty reiterated its long-standing demand that the bloodshed in Syria, estimated to have cost more than 100,000 lives over the past 28 months and instigated by the Western powers, be referred to the International Criminal Court.
On the economic front, Oil Minister Sleiman Abbas said the government has paid more than $500 million (376 million euros) in subsidies to the oil sector over the past six months.
According to a statement, Syria is currently producing 39,000 barrels of oil a day. That is down sharply from a figure of 380,000 bpd before the start of the crisis in March 2011.
The government continues to subsidise petrol as well as electricity, rice, sugar and flour.
But because of the war, most oil must be imported, mainly from key regional ally Iran.
Meanwhile, senior US military officer General Martin Dempsey will visit Israel and Jordan next week for a trip focused in part on Iran and Syria, the American military said.