The regime of Bashar Assad, however, has so far failed to meet two significant deadlines for a supposed deal to rid the country of chemical weapons. And his delegates remain unflinching against representatives of the rebels in ongoing peace talks in Switzerland. More than 130,000 people have died since the fighting began in early 2011, and millions are displaced from their homes.
The time has come to consider new offensive plans, according to anonymous senior officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, regarding growing frustration of the stalled path to peace. The White House is now considering plans to train and equip the rebel forces and possibly to set up no-fly zones.Defense spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren declined to comment on these talks, but said the Pentagon continues to feed options to the White House. "It’s the [Defense] Department’s job to provide options to the president. This is what we do," he said. "We have continued to do this now, regarding Syria specifically, for several years. We’re continuing to update those options and plans and we continue to provide the president with the options he needs to make a decision."
Secretary of State John Kerry has been one of the leading advocates for re-evaluating these options, reports the Journal, adding he has held private meetings with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director and prior commander of coalition forces in Iraq. Kerry has been careful to temper in public the belief that military force could bring about peace in Syria. "We still believe there is no military solution with respect to Syria. There has to be a political resolution," he said from Jakarta on Sunday, while speaking with his Indonesian counterpart. Ongoing peace talks in Switzerland have hit a brick wall regarding the implementation of an agreement that came out of similar talks in 2012, calling for the creation of a transition government in Syria. Regime delegates have said Assad will never step down, and rebel forces have stated categorically that he cannot participate in any future government.
The ongoing peace talks in Switzerland are currently in recess.
The U.S. came close to deploying military forces to Syria last summer during the missile standoff that never actually took place. A Marine Corps unit patrolling the Mediterranean at the time had plans to make landfall.
"As discussion of the strikes was occurring, we did some of our own prudent planning," said Marine Col. Matthew St. Clair, commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in remarks in D.C. last December. "If strikes did occur – that means aircraft are potentially flying – there would have to be the capability to conduct a recovery of either the aircraft or the pilots if they were shot down. That's a capability the [MEU] has."
The Washington Post reported last October the CIA was ramping up its training program for rebel fighters operating outside the influence of the growing Islamic extremist element there. The program as it existed then remained miniscule, the Post said.
Yet extremism in Syria remains a grave concern for U.S. spy chiefs. As many as 26,000 Islamic insurgents are fighting in Syria for as many as 1,600 separate groups, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
"We should be very concerned about this. Syria has become a huge magnet for extremists," he told Congress in January.
CNN released graphic videos on Sunday it says depict the brutal violence of one particularly extreme group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Al-Qaida’s central command has disavowed any connection with this group.