December 13th, 2012
11:19 PM ET

Al-Assad losing control but showing no signs of leaving

By Barbara Starr

The Syrian president's control is crumbling at an accelerating pace but the latest assessment by U.S. intelligence finds few indications Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down, according to U.S. officials.

While Obama administration officials have said during the nearly two-year conflict that it appears al-Assad is weakened, the descriptions provided to CNN by U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence suggest the Syrian leader's problems have accelerated internally as the opposition continues to capture more territory.

"It's at its lowest point yet," said one senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest assessments. U.S. intelligence believes the decline has accelerated in recent weeks. "The trend is moving more rapidly than it has in the past."

Photos: Fallen dictators of the past

The officials agreed to talk on the condition their names not be used because they were not authorized to discuss the information with the media.

U.S. to send troops, Patriot missiles to Turkey

The description comes as a key Russian official suggested candidly that al-Assad could very well be defeated by the rising opposition fighters.

"The regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov told a Russian government committee. "Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition."

The remark was unusually frank from Moscow, given that until very recently Russia had publicly brushed aside suggestions al-Assad was losing control. Still, few think it will lead to a change in Russia's stance to block efforts to force him to leave government.

U.S. official: Syria uses Scud missiles against rebels

Obama officials have publicly warned that al-Assad could resort to more drastic means to fight the opposition as he becomes more desperate.

Intelligence in recent weeks has found indications the Syrian military was mixing precursors for chemical weapons and loading them into bombs, though after public outcry and warnings from leaders around the globe there were signs that activity has "leveled off," according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

"But my concern is this: that as the opposition continues to move against the regime, particularly as they move towards Damascus, that if the regime feels that it's in danger of collapsing, that it might very well resort to these kinds of weapons. That's what concerns me the most," Panetta said in an interview this week with CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."

This week brought new concerns - that the Syrian military had fired Scud missiles at rebels, according to U.S. officials.

The White House spokesman said the use was a sign of al-Assad's "utter depravity" and a U.S. official said it could represent a "growing sense of desperation" by the government. But others within the U.S. government suggest the move might be more tactical than desperate.

If al-Assad is trying to keep his aircraft out of the range of opposition's surface-to-air missiles, the Scuds let him fire from much farther away and still reach into opposition territory, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.

Syria's president is still controlling some of his military forces and commanders, but U.S. officials believe he and his top advisers are showing less ability to maintain control than they did six to eight months ago.

"There has been a strongly downward steady progression" in al-Assad's grip on power," said the senior U.S. official.

The United States believes "the wall around him is slowly coming down," said the senior official of the strong inner circle around al-Assad. "We are saying there are indicators there is weakening around Assad."

Rebels say endgame in sight: 'We welcome this fight'

That said, this senior official and other U.S. administration officials tell CNN that as of now there is no indication al-Assad is making plans to step down.

A second official said the leader and his commanders appear to be fully aware the opposition has made significant military gains in recent weeks and that Assad "is not out of it" in his understanding of the current situation.

The signs point to this conflict being resolved through fighting, not through a diplomatic or political solution, said a former U.S. ambassador to Syria.

Syrian regime approaching collapse, NATO chief says

"My sense is that this will be ultimately decided through force of arms on the ground" - despite the Obama administration's reluctance to give heavy weapons to rebels, former Ambassador Frederic Hof told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

Given that, the continuing concern is a sudden implosion of the Syrian government and a resulting security vacuum. The senior official said the United States feels it has enough intelligence indicators to be aware when that may happen.

Even with the rebel advances, the Syrian military forces that have stayed to fight for the government appear to be holding firm in their loyalty. There are signs that military defections at the commander level are slowing, though the U.S. analysts are not sure why, according to a second U.S. official.

"There is still regime control over the military despite the fact they recognize the opposition force has improved," said the second U.S. official, also directly familiar with the latest assessment on Syria said.

It could be the major period of defections is over, or there is tighter security. There continues to be some defections, especially of lower level troops, the second official said.

CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Assad • Obama • Panetta • Russia • Syria
soundoff (292 Responses)
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    December 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  8. american

    The problem is.... Assad is the only level headed half a** middle eastern leader left.... once he leaves we will have some radical jihadist government to replace him with. I still think its wrong hes destroying the whole country just to stay president.....

    December 17, 2012 at 7:01 am | Reply
  9. sam kohen

    There is a film Nicholas & Alexandria about the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. They show him living in a Disneyland World completely oblivious to how his people were faring. The film actually never shows him mingling with his people asking them how they are faring and how he can help. Actually the film shows the general people going hungry and living in real poverty while he lives in a fairy tale world.

    In 1905 a local bishop, Father Gapon led a group of people to the Winter Palace to ask Tsar Nicholas II for help. As they approached the palace they met a unit of Cossacks who shot straight into the unarmed crowd. How many people were killed is not really known.

    In the next scene Tsar Nicholas asks his Prime Minister Witte who ordered the Cossacks to shoot, to which Prime Minister Witte asks him if he would have spoken to them to which the tsar says, 'certainly not'. The Prime Minister then tells him that his reply to the people were bullets, and eventually the people would answer him back with bullets.

    Twelve years later that is exactely what happened to Tsar Nicholas. It is quite obvious that President Assad never saw this film. All he had to do is give his people some freedom but when he gave that stupid speach to his parliament back in March2011 making it clear that he had no intention of making any changes, that was the beginning of the end for him. Tsar Nicholas was a stupid man. It seems so is President Gadaffi and President Assad as well.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  10. Homer10

    Bashar, there coming for you. It won't be pretty. Remember Momar? How about Sadam? It didn't go well for them, and you are on the same road. Why don't you give Putin a call? See if he has a nice place in Moscow for you to rent. You can steal billions from the Syrian gov, and slink off into the night like the criminal you are. However if you stay it won't end very well for you. I see extreme violence in what's left of your life.

    December 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  11. RUDY

    Telling lie's is allowed by the US media, this comes from a posting on a cnn article;
    RPMartinson Jack Rivera • 4 days ago −
    The Issue with Fox is they lie: In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States."Fox" argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre's claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so". Btw why are us citizens so upset with masskillings in there own country but less in Iraq, Afghanistan , Libya, Syria by theyre own Military, CIA or other black ops interventions abroad ?

    December 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
    • athiestbob

      because its not part of the Democrat platform to care

      December 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  12. Dictators_R_Us

    Why is Al-Assad's mouth so tiny??? HAs anyone else noticed that,like,his head is shaped like a bowling-pin,and his mouth is so small!!

    BTW,Syria gets their weapons from Iran,and Iran gets their weapons from....RUSSIA!!!! The USSR!!!!!!! Kill those Red Commies like we were planning in the 60's,then peace will reign on Earth!!!

    December 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • Homer10

      It's all that inbreeding in the Al-Asad family. It creates a lot of genetically flawed idiots.

      December 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
      • massoud

        you must have the Al Assad family mixed up with the House of Windsor when you speak of inbreeding, just sayin'......

        December 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you Dictators_R_Us, for showing us what a weak minded, warmongering Tea Partier you truly are. No wonder we can't have peace in the world with idiots like you around!

      December 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  13. Bezboz

    Whoever is directing policy in the state dept or HLS, he will NOT leave office abruptly because it will mean hundreds of thousands of his people will be killed in cold blood. Until that fact is clear to you, you are not seeing and undersanding the big picture. This is not Lybia and not Iraq.

    December 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • Kasey

      If you can't spell the name of the country right, stop posting - it's Libya.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
      • Ted

        Let them fight till total destruction ala nazi Germany.

        December 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
      • Homer10

        But hay. It's an honest mistake.

        December 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  14. keith cossairt

    so, we are toppling another sectarian govt with religious tollerance and replacing it with alqeada extremists ? who is thinking up this policy ???? and why ????

    December 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Dani Sayyah

      Your not Toppling nothing! ..
      the people rose up and are going to defeat al-assad..
      the US and the world had nothing to do with it
      no one supplied the syrian people with weaponry ..
      THE US ...gave them communication equipment
      all weapons are from facilities in syria and from the defection of the army units

      get your facts straight buddy

      December 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
      • James

        the weapons are from Israel, turkey, and the Wahabi governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Syrian will be back to stone ages and you will be riding camels soon idiot

        December 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
      • Homer10

        Good. We have been meddeling in the Middle East far too much. Also we need to keep our expenses down. That deficite you know. So we give a little help just where it's needed. Much more cost effective.

        December 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
      • Hani

        Dany.. please stop your comments..what you saying is not true.. please review your source of info,

        December 15, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  15. bert f.

    Part of me wants to eventually see Bashar Al-Assad hanging upside down like Mussolini at the end of WW II.

    December 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • Homer10

      Remember follow these instructions when beating a subhuman ex dictator to death:
      1. First start with emotional torture. Tell him what the mob is going to do to him.
      2. Start by smashing the hands, and feat. minimal shock. Now's the time to administer some sort of stimulent to heighten the pain.
      3. Gag the dictator to prevent the screams. Screaming is a way of coping with pain. Preventing the screams, increases the pain.
      4. Now with clubs, and bats work the blows inward to the arms and legs.
      5. Then apply deap blows to the central torso.
      6. Finally go for the head to end it. Avoiding the head until the very end makes certain that the dictator remains concious until the very end.

      Source, A Syrian training manual on tourcher written by Bashar's father. Poetic Justice.
      What do you think Bashar? Did I get it right? You should know.

      December 14, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  16. CNNCntVerify

    All the news from Syria actually indicate that the Syrian army is winning against the FSA Jihadi terrorists NOT the other way around. Even though the FSA terrorists are getting stronger arms and unlimited supply of Jihadi fighters are still getting trained, armed and sent from Turkey, they are only winning the media war. The reality on the ground is very different. Even after almost 2 years of posting unverified news, CNN war propaganda machine doesn't get tired of spreading war propaganda lies.

    December 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • Tony

      I am very sure you lost your mind pal. To be a loyalist to a criminal derranged president and his thugs mean you are a criminal like them. The whole world are denouncing your regime. Unfortunately, the FSA has to rely on god only and few support from arabs who felt embaraced from doing nothing. Your beloved Alawite president is killing people in line waiting for bread. Destroying hospitals and preventing minimum medical services. Your fellow Alawites are slaughtering children and women in cold blood. Any person in this world no bad how they are have more human values than you.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
      • crana

        Whoa, you are drinking cool aid, aren't you? Criminal, deranged president? Where do you get your news, ha? The man is a secular president with a very sophisticated British wife. Those who are fighting are basically Al-qaida and similar groups. Not that there are secular, liberal minded people in the opposition. But they are a tiny minority. The biggest opposition groups are simply terrorists. I don't understand why the US has not learnt from past mistakes of funding extremist Islamist groups such as Al-Qaida (in Afghanistan in the 80's). These same groups will turn around and bite us. If people understood this reality and still supported such actions, I am fine with that. But the kind of ignorance I see on this message board is truly amazing. How the US is the richest and most innovative nation in the planet when its citizens are this imbecilic, I don't understand!

        December 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
      • CNN Cnt Verify

        Hey said "Your fellow Alawites are slaughtering children and women in cold blood." and "Your beloved Alawite president"......From your racist comments, I can clearly say that you "care" so much about "freedom" and "democracy"!!!!......LOL you are a joke.......... By the way I hate to disappoint you but I am Christian and as an American Christian from a Syrian decent, I find it too dumb that you call yourself Tony...... You are either an "Ahmed" fanatic Muslim that has been brainwashed into believing that the hate and revenge Jihad against the infidels is a Godly thing or a "Jacob" posting hate comments to stir sectarian conflicts in Syria..... Regardless, you are not Syrian since true Syrians care about their country and all its people regardless of their religions and ethnicities and strive to keep Syria SECULAR.

        December 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • FJohns

      Where did you get your facts? LOL
      if the FSA wasn't winning .. why has it lasted 2 years?
      do you not understand WAR?
      the longer it takes for this to go on .. the worst its getting for your Syrian Terrorist Sectarian Regime of Assad and the Allewites .. its a matter of time till they hang him.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Reply
      • Ma Dez

        Just a matter of time like Saddam or worse, Khadaffy....

        December 14, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  17. Brathead

    I wish someone would find Assad and take him out. He has no respect for his country or the people. Otherwise he would step down & end the bloodshed.

    December 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • tyuow

      You have no real idea of what is going on at all do you? Your just here to spout off some over the top comments. Syria in reality has not done a whole lot wrong. But because of the "Arab spring" everyone thought that there leaders would just roll over. It does not work that way at all. Reguardless im very interested to see how this whole mess will play out, I dont think the rebel fighters have enough of anything on there own to get this done.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  18. Die Beaker Die

    What kind of people would put up with " Beaker " as their leader ?

    December 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  19. Mr.Robert

    We all heard about abuses from his regime, but once he is ousted from office, what comes next? There are reports of attrocities, committed by the so called rebels, on captured loyal officers or even soldiers. What kind or type of government will be there in Syria once Assad is gone?

    December 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • 111Dave111

      Clearly there are going to be more atrocities. 40,000 deaths so far. I doubt Mr. el Assad, his family, or advisers will survive. Peace will com slowly.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  20. Tahir

    Killing rebels is allowed in Islam. In Islam no person is allowed to fight with weapons against a Govenrment where they are living. These rebels are US agents and have nothing to do with ISAM.

    December 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • Jj

      Ya hundreds of thousands of syrians fighting the brutal dictatorship of assad are US are an idiot....

      December 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • diana horton

      someone has been hitting his head on the ol prayer rug to many times.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  21. Tahir

    Syrian rebels will soon reach New york like Sir Osama bin laden.

    December 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply

      yuck foo you sand dan

      December 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
    • Mason

      Really?.........the last time I check ur SIR was been fed to sharks

      December 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • alfonds

      DId you mean Sir Barrac Obama?

      December 14, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  22. Aladdin

    If using Scud missiles against terrorists is an example of utter depravity, what do you call car bombings and the execution of women and children in an Alawite village yesterday?
    The US is now sponsoring terrorism.

    December 14, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • me

      The U.S has always funded terrorist. They feed off war.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
    • Tony

      If you live in glass house do not throw stone at others. Alawite will harvest what they plant. You supported a sick man and his family and ignored syrians who opened their arms to you( alawites) for more than 50 years. You proved that you have no nationalistic feeling and no respect to human value you disgraced syria and made the whole world petty us.
      You made generous syrian people poor and refugees. I just feel bad for the innocent alawites whoes hands are clean. The French revolution will repeat itself that what the history tell us.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
      • Matt

        You are an ignorant person be quite.

        December 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  23. Liberty

    Assad, you're finished, and you will go down in history as a vile and ruthless dictator. Your name, like that of Hitler and Stalin, will prompt disgust, when it is mentioned. Your family will live in shame, because of you.

    It's time for you to face justice for your crimes. First you must stand before a jury of your peers, and then you will stand in judgment before God.

    If I were you, I'd fear both–but I'd especially fear the latter. That one's for eternity.

    December 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
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