CIA officials were pushing for a multifaceted plan designed to plot Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster back in 2012, a former CIA operative Doug Laux, who drafted the “ops plan” revealed in an exclusive interview with NBC. He was providing insight into a soon-to-be-released memoir that deals specifically with the issue and is due to be published on April 5.
The White House and CIA leaders “had made it clear from the beginning that the goal of our task force was to find ways to remove President Assad from office,” Laux told NBC.
The book written by the former ground operative from the CIA’s Syria task force, who spent a year in the war-torn country meeting with Syrian rebels and intelligence officers from various US partner countries, was heavily censored by US intelligence and he was not allowed to disclose the details of his plan.
However, Laux claimed that his ideas “had gained traction” in Washington and were shared by other CIA members. The then-CIA Director, David Petraeus, supported the plan and now he believes that is could have prevented the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) as well as European refugee crisis, former US officials told the media.
The plan included both “bolstering Syrian rebels” and “pressuring and paying senior members of Assad’s regime to push him out,” NBC reports, citing unnamed former US officials, who also added that it was seen by some members of the US establishment as a way to resolve the Syrian civil war peacefully.
Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria, and Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary, also reportedly supported the plan. Petraeus, Ford and other officials held weekly meetings on the issue in 2012.
Democratic presidential candidate and the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, also sided with Petraeus in White House debates, supporting in particular the idea of CIA secretly arming the Syrian rebels, as she said in her memoir “Hard Choices” published in 2015.
However, the final plan that contained many of Laux’s suggestions was eventually declined by US President Barack Obama.
“We had come up with 50 good options to facilitate that. My ops plan laid them out in black and white. But political leadership…hadn’t given us the go-ahead to implement a single one,” Laux told NBC.
Later, Obama authorized another plan that envisaged arming and training Syrian rebels.
However, some US politicians still believe that the plan could have been effective.
“I’m confident we would be looking at a different Syria today if the president of the United States hadn’t overruled David Petraeus, head of the CIA, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, and Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense,” Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) told NBC News.
Looking back, Laux himself said he does not believe this or any other plan could have ended the Syrian civil war or prevented the rise of Islamic State. “There were no moderates,” he told NBC, referring to the Syrian opposition.
At the same time, he denounced the US policy in Syria in 2012 as “feckless” adding that it shattered American credibility in the region.