A senior U.S. military intelligence official warned this weekend that the Syrian conflict could last "many, many months to multiple years," and said the situation there would likely worsen whether or not the Syrian leader, President Bashar Assad, fell.
"My concern is that it could go on for a long time," said David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, adding that civilian casualties, fleeing refugees and internal dislocation and chaos would only increase.
"It is in large measure a stalemate," he told the Aspen Security Forum Saturday, according to a posted video of his speech.
The remarks are the grimmest public assessment to date by U.S. officials of the Syrian civil war, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in two years of fighting.
Mr. Shedd said that, despite U.S. promises to arm the more moderate elements of the insurgency, the real winners in the Syrian conflict were likely to be Islamic extremists.
"The reality is that, left unchecked, they will become bigger," Mr. Shedd said. "Over the last two years, they've grown in size, they've grown in capability and ruthlessly have grown in effectiveness."
Mr. Shedd said violence and instability were likely to worsen, whatever the result of the civil war.
If the regime in Damascus were to regain its grip, Mr. Assad "will be a more ruthless leader who will live with a legacy of tens of thousands of his civilians killed under him," he said.
But if Mr. Assad falls, precipitating an exploding cross-border conflict between Sunni and Shia muslims, the situation will be as bad, if not worse, Mr. Shedd said.
"If he loses and goes to an enclave inside there, I think there will be ongoing civil war for years to come," he said, noting that al-Qaeda-linked extremists already control parts of the country. "They will fight for that space. They're there for the long haul."
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