Pentagon official: Islamist rebels could gain sway in Syria civil war

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If radical Islamist rebels fighting in Syria are left “unchecked,” they could gain sway over the many disparate factions opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a top Pentagon intelligence official told Reuters on Saturday.

“Left unchecked, I’m very concerned that the most radical elements will take over larger segments” of the opposition groups, David Shedd, the deputy director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said, strongly hinting at the need for some form of foreign intervention.

But despite commenting on the dangers posed by the Islamist al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda’s Iraq-based wing, Shedd did not advocate any form of intervention by the United States or its allies, saying that was up to policy makers.

He said the conflict could drag on anywhere “from many, many months to multiple years,” and that a prolonged stalemate couldl eave open parts of Syria to potential control by radical fighters.

“They will not go home when it’s over,” Shedd said, envisioning one scenario where Assad retreats to an enclave and other parts of the country are up for grabs. “They will fight for that space, and they’re there for the long haul.”

More than 93,000 people have been killed since the Syria crisis started in March 2011, according to the United Nations, as largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. It escalated into a civil war after opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent.

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