Kofi Annan Leaves Syria

August 3, 2012

Another blow has been dealt to the Syrian peace process.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has resigned from his role as the U.N.’s chief peace negotiator in Damascus. The announcement comes as the severity of fighting has risen in recent weeks. This is yet another sign that there will not be a peaceful end to the Syrian civil war any time soon.

Mr. Annan had been in this role since February, but success always appeared to be a long shot for him: It can be almost impossible to demilitarize a conflict with so many moving parts. As I have written, there are possibly hundreds of opposition groups within Syria vying for a leadership position in the rebellion. Getting all of these groups to the table would be a daunting task in and of itself. Even then, getting them to agree on anything is another matter entirely.

So what are the consequences of diplomacy failing?

I’ve noted previously that the Syrian military is using war planes to fire on the opposition. These are fighter jets and helicopters that were designed to fight a different kind of war (a war with another state actor). This could indicate the military’s desperation and hint at a disintegration of its other capabilities.

Reports now attest that portions of the rebel opposition have become more capable and better organized since al-Qaeda got involved in the fight. News reports out this morning cite intelligence sources indicating that a substantial presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq is within Syria. This compounds matters.

Al-Qaeda operatives have previous combat experience, and they are probably offering to help the local opposition forces be more effective. Al-Qaeda will likely embed their fighters in existing opposition forces and move to systematically co-opt the agenda of these groups, once they are in place.

Western intelligence services need to find out who and where these operatives are – and fast: Syria is known to be armed with a substantial stockpile of chemical weapons. It will be vital for western governments to ensure that those weapons do not fall into terrorist hands.

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