Obama rejected CIA plan in 2012 to stop ISIL, ex-officials say

Special to WorldTribune.com

President Barack Obama in 2012 rejected a covert CIA plan to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad that likely would have stopped the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), former U.S. officials say.

An upcoming book by a former CIA operative reveals the agency had forged a “muti-tiered plan” to remove Assad. The plan went beyond then-CIA Director David Petraeus’s recommended program to secretly arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to pressure Assad.

General David Petraeus with President Barack Obama. /AP
General David Petraeus with President Barack Obama. /AP

Former U.S. officials involved in the discussions confirmed the plan to NBC News.

The book was written by former CIA officer Doug Laux, who said in an exclusive interview with NBC News that he was “the eyes and ears on the ground for the CIA’s Syria task force.”

When the CIA plan was proposed by Laux, ISIL had not yet broken from Syria’s Al Qaida affiliate and had yet to seize any territory.

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. “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.”

While, Laux said in the interview he didn’t believe his or any other covert plan could have stopped the rise of ISIL, Petraeus believes it might have, as does Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, and Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary.

Petraeus and others who supported the CIA plan believe “it could have prevented the rise of ISIL, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, the European refugee crisis and the tens of thousands of civilian deaths that have happened since,” the former officials say.

Ford said in an interview that ISIL would not have been able to declare a caliphate in Raqqa, Syria if the U.S. government had taken steps in 2012 to bolster what was then called the Free Syrian Army.

Obama has not commented on the full CIA plan, but he has said arming Syrian rebels would not have worked.

“The notion that we could have — in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces — changed the equation on the ground there was never true,” Obama said in an interview for the April edition of the Atlantic Magazine.