By Samuel Burke
In April, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said that the longer violence festers in Syria, the greater the danger is of bad actors stepping in. Now, the Obama administration is concerned with growing reports of al Qaeda, its offshoots and other Jihadists flooding into Syria.
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour Thursday, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Terrorism, Daniel Benjamin, echoed what Bill Clinton said months ago.
“Whenever you have a case of civil strife and instability, as you have in Syria, it makes it extremely attractive to extremists who want to use this opportunity for more chaos and advance their cause,” he said.
Benjamin told Amanpour that these types of individuals are indeed already in Syria, including al Qaeda fighters.
“The number is relatively small now,” Benjamin said. “I would put the numbers in the dozens to a hundred, a hundred plus. We don’t have that much granularity that we can say with any certainty how many there are.”
Benjamin told Amanpour that the easiest way for the fighters to enter Syria is through Iraq, where the border is quite porous, but added that aggressors are coming from a variety of countries.
The Obama administration is now left to figure how to stop more of these fighters from entering Syria. Benjamin says that the U.S. must keep the Syrian opposition groups up to speed and inform them of the threat. He also said the U.S. must work more broadly with partners around the world to hinder terrorist travel, so foreign fighters headed to Syria find it harder and harder to get there.
Kofi Annan’s resignation as envoy to Syria makes it even less likely that a negotiated, political solution will stop the civil war in Syria. Benjamin did not rule out the possibility of China or Russia coming around and agreeing to U.N. resolution. That would put more pressure on Assad, and as Benjamin put it, maybe then he would realize “the writing on the wall and see there’s no future for him in Syria.”