- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2012

The State Department on Thursday insisted that the communications equipment it has provided to opposition groups in Syria is capable of resisting penetration from spies working for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The United States has sent about 2,000 pieces of equipment from phones to computers and cameras.

“They are all designed to be independent from and able to circumvent the Syrian domestic network, precisely for the reason of keeping them safe, keeping them secure from regime tampering, regime listening and regime interruption,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Ms. Nuland’s assertion came in response to reports that the Assad government has now cut cell phone and Internet access across the war-torn nation.

In Syria Thursday, fighting raged between government troops and rebel forces on the main road to the international airport outside the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Opposition groups say that more than 40,000 people have been killed during the nearly two-year-old war in Syria. Many outside observers are holding out hope that the current battles in and around Damascus represent a shift in momentum favoring the rebels.

Ms. Nuland pointed to other indicators Thursday that may suggest a tipping point, noting that there are now “dozens and dozens” of local opposition councils operating across the nation.

“We have quite a number of opposition figures who are now able to move in and out of Syria, particularly as the regime loses control of broad swaths of the border,” she said. “We are able to meet with the opposition and get things to them through those networks.”

“Particularly, we are seeking to maintain connections to leaders of these local political organization, these local coordinating councils,” Ms. Nuland said.

“Many of them are now starting to take up the slack where government has receded, where the regime is no longer able to provide services – everything from trash collection to ensuring that there is no vigilante justice.”

According to the website, lccsyria.org, Local Coordinating Committees presently exist in 14 different Syrian cities, including Damascus.

“Over time, the committees have sought greater coordination between themselves, in order to synchronize their activities, movements on the ground and political positions,” according to a message on the website.

What is less clear is how smoothly the local committees will fit into the broader, new national opposition council likely to seize power should the Assad government fall.

The Obama administration is believed to be preparing to recognize the council as the legitimate representative of the Syria people during the coming weeks. The recognition could come at a Dec. 12 meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria conference of more than 70 nations to be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The recognition could also be accompanied by pledges of additional humanitarian and non-lethal logistical support for the opposition, but is unlikely to result in U.S. military assistance, at least in the short-term.

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