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LAMBRO: More trouble on an old bubble

Assad drops ‘barrel bombs,’ Al Qaeda opens new chapters and Washington is silent

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If 2013 is remembered for anything, it will be the terrorist civil wars that have inflicted death and destruction in much of the world, especially the Middle East and Africa.

Deadly, often daily, bombings are a common occurrence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Syria, where the ruthless dictator Bashar Assad is killing civilians and rebels with impunity to crush the rebellion there.

Meantime, Egypt is being torn apart in the wake of a military coup whose armies are battling Muslim extremists in a fierce religious war with no end in sight.

This week, its military-backed government declared that the Muslim Brotherhood, who rose to power in last year's national elections, was a terrorist organization. The decree followed a series of car bombings by the Brotherhood's supporters, most recently in a Nile Delta city north of Cairo on Tuesday, killing 14 people and injuring scores of others.

Islamic terrorists have seized on the regionwide chaos, with renewed attacks on civilian populations in an attempt to topple fledgling democracies and impose Muslim rule throughout the Middle East.

Terrorist recruitment is mushrooming in this caldron of death and destruction where al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups say that they will bathe the region in blood to achieve their ends.

Nowhere is the situation more lethal than in war-torn Syria, where Mr. Assad, aided and armed by Iran and Russia, has been given a seemingly free hand, after the chemical-weapons deal, to pursue a reign of terror against his own people.

Mr. Assad's indiscriminate use of deadly chemical weapons against the Syrian people enraged the civilized world and, eventually, the Obama administration, which had been slow to react to its use until Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, turned it into a national issue.

But as the political focus turned to a deal with Syria to disarm and destroy its chemical weapons — with the next phase in the negotiations set for next month — Mr. Assad had a green light to step up his attacks in rebel-held cities and towns.

Hundreds of Syrian civilians — men, women and children — have been killed by Mr. Assad's brutal and relentless use of "barrel bombs." The bombs are filled with high explosives, nails and other shrapnel and dropped by helicopters into unsuspecting residential neighborhoods.

An especially heavy bombing barrage rained down on Aleppo and its surrounding suburbs and at least three other towns in the past week. Mr. Assad has used such bombs in the past, but now he's ordering their use with increased frequency and intensity.

These crude but effective weapons "are far simpler than the chemical weapons that the United States and other Western powers are trying to ferry out of the country," The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

"But ... the fear they provoke is almost as intense [as the use of chemical weapons], activists and rebel fighters say," The Post added.

With the White House and the international community now focused on the upcoming chemical-verification talks, Mr. Assad's bombing attacks are clearly not drawing the same attention that followed the widespread use of poison gas on his people.

This is a travesty. "The helicopters haven't left the skies of Aleppo for the last 10 days," said Yasser al-Ahmed, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army and a fighter in their cause.

The administration's tardy, tepid response? "The United States condemns the ongoing air assault by Syrian government forces on civilians," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement this week.

But these sinister attacks clearly demand a more high-profile response at the highest levels of our government — certainly by President Obama and by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Where is the high-level sense of outrage? Where are the words of condemnation that are commensurate with the brutal, murderous actions against innocent civilians? They seem to be all but absent as Mr. Assad unleashes mass bombings that are just as deadly as his previous use of chemical weapons.

There are justifiable reasons to question whether Mr. Assad and his Syrian thugs can be trusted in any verification deal in the chemical-weapons dismantlement process that is being drawn up.

Who can trust someone who has so much blood on his hands? Who can trust anyone who has been working hand in glove with Russia's former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin, and Iran's anti-Israel, Muslim mullahs? Chemical weapons can be hidden by Mr. Assad, or by his accomplices in Russia and Iran.

Obviously, Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry think he's trustworthy, but there are plenty of reasons to question their judgment.

Last year, Mr. Obama was campaigning around the country, telling us that al Qaeda's terrorist ranks were "on the run" and have been "decimated." And tens of millions of voters believed him.

Now we know that was not true and never was true. Al Qaeda has grown dramatically more powerful, according to high-level national security officials. Its regional branches, as well as its affiliations with more than 14 other terrorist groups, have operations in nearly 30 countries, according to the IntelCenter, a Virginia-based security organization that tracks global terrorism.

They are operating across the Middle East, North Africa and much of Asia, too. Recent attacks have taken place in Turkey, Yemen, Uganda, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere.

Hardly a day goes by that we do not read reports of al Qaeda terrorists blowing up Iraqi soldiers or civilians. They killed at least 18 Iraqi officers in Anbar province Saturday, amid signs they are intensifying their attacks and gaining ground there.

Terrorism is growing, and al Qaeda is now stronger than ever, but why won't the White House tell us that?

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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