Western Powers Differ on Assad's Strength, Issue Assistance to Syrian Rebels

New reports suggest Syrian rebels are being defeated with Iran's help.


British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a joint news conference with President Barack Obama Monday. The two heads of state have presented slightly different pictures of the Syrian conflict.


The likelihood of success for the Syrian opposition is wavering among some of its strongest backers, amid some reports that Bashar al-Assad's regime is not on the verge of collapse.

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In a joint press conference Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama said that upcoming multilateral meetings in Geneva will help opposition groups "prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar al-Assad." This mirrors the sentiments of other top American officials, including Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who have all but declared victory for the Syrian rebels in recent weeks.

But recent news out of Syria indicates the fall of Assad is neither imminent nor on the horizon. Cameron said at the same press conference that the U.K. plans to double its military's equipment support to the rebels, adding "there is no more urgent international task than this."

"There will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught," Cameron said at the White House Monday. The U.K., along with France and Israel, has been much more outspoken and specific about atrocities committed by the Syrian regime during the country's lengthy civil war, including the claim that chemical weapons have been used against the rebel fighters.

Cameron announced Monday that Britain will double its shipments of non-lethal equipment to the rebels, including armored vehicles, body armor and generators. It will also bolster ongoing humanitarian efforts that treat traumatic injuries and torture victims, along with providing food and clean water. The U.K. continues to amend the European Union arms embargo that limits E.U. countries' export of weapons, Cameron said.

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Secretary of State John Kerry announced last Friday that the U.S. would increase its aid to Syria by $100 million, though American officials remain much less specific on what kind of non-lethal fighting equipment the U.S. is sending.

Both Obama and Cameron agreed that Russia will have an influential role to play if the country returns to the bargaining table in Geneva this spring or summer. Russia refused to support calls for the ouster of Assad – an historical ally – at the last Geneva conference in 2012.

Obama said it will be "very hard to put things back together" in Syria after the "furies have been unleashed" since fighting broke out in March 2011, resulting in as many as 100,000 deaths.

But preparing for reconstruction may be premature. News reports indicate a new offensive from the regime-loyal Syrian military have the rebel factions on their heels.

Assad appeared in public on May 1, reports the New York Times, in what likely an attempt to demonstrate he is not in hiding.

"They want us to be afraid. Well, we won't be afraid," he said in a television clip, according to the Times. Assad has successfully dodged assassination attempts and continues to block U.N. inspectors from entering the country in order to follow up on mid-March claims that he had used chemical weapons against his own people. Obama has repeatedly said that use of such weapons would cross a "red line."

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A May 3 feature from the Jerusalem Post says the Assad regime "shows no signs of cracking."

"The momentum of the fighting has shifted somewhat," the report said. "Regime forces have clawed back areas of recent rebel advance. The government side, evidently under Iranian tutelage, has showed an impressive and unexpected ability to adapt itself to the changing demands of the war.

A March 13 report from the semi-official Syrian Arab News Agency said military forces successfully repelled an attack from a "armed terrorist group" at a military checkpoint in Daraa, a town in southern Syria near the Jordanian border.

Regime troops "devastated terrorists' dens in the villages of Saison, al-Shebraq, Jamleh, al-Nafe'a, Sahm al-Golan, al-Shajara, Koieh, in the province countryside, killing and wounding a number of terrorists," according to a military source cited in the report.