The second-in-command of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says that the toppling of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria is the largest threat to United States national security and may help al-Qaeda acquire chemical weapons.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said the prospect of the Syrian government being replaced by al-Qaeda his biggest worry.
Morell’s statement is especially surprising considering America’s official position on the Syrian civil war. US President Barack Obama and his officials have repeatedly called Assad a “dictator” who is responsible for more than 92,000 lives lost in a bloody conflict between government forces and rebels – some of whom are openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Should the current regime collapse without a stable government to step up to the plate, Morell said the warheads being held by Assad may end up in the hands of America’s adversaries.
The US remains embarked on a plan that would aid Syrian rebels by way of supplying them with arms. With al-Qaeda extremists entwined in that same war against Assad, however, one wrong turn could cause the US to accidentally equip its most feared enemy.
According to Morell, the Syrian government’s weapons “are going to be up for grabs and up for sale” if Assad is ousted. Unless the US has a plan of attack ready for that moment, munitions and warheads currently controlled by Assad could end up in the hands of just about anyone.
And with al-Qaeda close to the action, Morell warned that they could pounce on the opportunity to gain Assad’s equipment.
“Al-Qaeda has had its own victory as well,” he said. “The dispersal of al-Qaeda is their victory.”
With al-Qaeda increasing the scope of its operation in Syria, the US could have a whole new front in its war on terror. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 brought American troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and later to Iraq.
In the decade-plus since, the US has launched drones over locales like Yemen and Somalia to take a stab at diminishing al-Qaeda’s presence. As hostilities increase in Syria, a new adversary could worsen the current situation.
Given what the US has reported about the current Syrian government, al-Qaeda stands to collect all sorts of goodies if they can grab hold of Assad’s goods as well.
The White House has insisted that Assad deployed chemical weapons on citizens during the civil war, and the opposition and government have both relied on whatever weapons they can collect in order to fight off their foes. That hostile environment is increasingly being populated by al-Qaeda extremists, and Morell says that’s not good for US security.
Syria is “probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading,” Morell said. He added that Iran, core al-Qaeda, and the North Korean government are following just behind Syria.
“I don’t remember a time when there have been so many national security issues on the front burner as there are today,” Morell said.