US Seeks Political Resolution in Syria, Says Assad Doesn't Have to go First
"I don't think it's important for us to say Assad must go first," Tom Bossert said on Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum. "The US would still like to see Assad go at some point. That would be our desired outcome."
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview in Damascus, Syria. (Reuters)
Aspen: The US is seeking a political resolution to the crisis in Syria and won't insist on Syrian President Bashar Assad's immediate ouster, President Donald Trump's homeland and counter-terrorism adviser has said.
"I don't think it's important for us to say Assad must go first," Tom Bossert said on Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of intelligence and national security officials and experts. "The US would still like to see Assad go at some point. That would be our desired outcome."
Bossert said there needs to be a political outcome in Syria, not a military-imposed one that has no political strategy to fill a void in leadership. Still, he said Assad staying in control does not offer the best hope for a peaceful Syria. Whether Assad's leaving "comes first or second or soon thereafter, it would be a nice outcome."
Bossert spoke following news reports that Trump had decided to halt the CIA's years-long covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the Assad government.
Russia had long pushed the United States to end the program.
The phasing out of the secret program was reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday. Officials told the newspaper that ending the operation reflects Trump's interest in finding ways to work with Russia. The program was a key component begun by the Obama administration to put pressure on Assad to relinquish power.
The CIA began the covert operation in 2013 to arm, fund and train a moderate opposition to Assad. By some estimates, the CIA trained some 10,000 fighters.
In October 2015, the CIA-backed rebels were being bombarded during Russian air campaigns in Syria. US officials said then that the Russian air campaign was aimed at weakening US-funded groups and other moderate fighters battling Assad's forces.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who at the time was a Republican congressman representing Kansas, said then that the Russians were fully aware of whom they were targeting and that the bombing locations not connected to Islamic State fighters.
For years, the CIA effort had foundered and some lawmakers had proposed cutting its budget. Some CIA-supported rebels had been captured; others had defected to extremist groups. But in late 2015, CIA-backed groups, fighting alongside more extremist factions, had begun to make progress in south and northwest Syria.
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