Operation Fallen Void: Covert Action Assassination of Bashar Al-Assad



NOTICE AND DISCLAIMER

The content of this report is pure speculation. This assignment was a project for an intelligence course with the outline of proposing a covert action for an issue facing the world today. Any of the governmental agencies, military assets, or intelligence organizations mentioned are in no way affiliated with this report. The author of this report has no intention to cause harm to any of the targets mentioned, has no intention to become involved in the uprising in Syria, and has no intention of aiding or influencing any parties involved in the conflict. The findings, outlines, and recommendations in this report are pure fiction and should be treated and regarded as such.

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Syria has been in a state of turmoil for the past two years. The Syrian rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have led an uprising aimed at removing president Bashar al-Assad from power. The ongoing conflict has resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 Syrians. [Link Here] The internal strife in Syria has threatened the security of Turkey, which shares an expansive mutual border with Syria. As a result, diplomatic relations between the two, once allied, countries has rapidly deteriorated. This constant state of upheaval also threatens the security of Israel and Lebanon, both of which have had a long and complicated history with Syria as well. The consensus of the western world is that Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy as a ruler, expecting his demise and ouster to be forthcoming. However, two major veto-power players in the UN, Russia and China, have been virulently opposed to any call for Assad to step down – or let alone condemnation. The Syrian regime is a valuable business, economic, and defense partner with Russian and Chinese interests. So even amidst that atrocities being perpetrated at the direction of Assad, he has essentially been given a free pass.
The U.S. has actively pursued every diplomatic channel for bringing about conflict cessation in Syria, but to no avail. The U.S. has approached the UN, the Arab League, and NATO entities, but no collective action has been firmly implemented. The public nature of the conflict, as well as the brazen nature of Assad’s response has removed any doubt as to the dire situation facing the future of Syria. Human rights organizations and foreign journalists have documented the constant deterioration of civility expanding throughout Syria. While not officially intervening with boots on the ground in Syria, the U.S. and other regional allies have facilitated support for the FSA. The stagnation of progress to bringing about a peaceful cessation of conflict in Syria is only expanding. Thus the urgency and severity of this conflict demand that there be a military action aimed at ending the brutal crackdown of the Assad regime.

Mission Directive:

The U.S. would provide logistical and strategical support to a limited amount of the resistance elements within the FSA for the explicit purpose of facilitating the targeted assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime has so far weathered numerous losses in the form of defections and fatalities. However, Assad has been able to retain crucial elements of the Syrian Security Forces. This is due to a unique position that Assad has by virtue of an ethnic identity – being a member of the Alawite minority. Furthermore, the personality cult that surrounds Assad’s brand of authoritarian rule is a remnant of his Father’s, Hafez al-Assad, reign over Syria.

By eliminating Bashar al-Assad from the picture multiple goals could be achieved. Without Assad at the helm, the command structure of the Syrian regime would crumble. This would bring about the swift cessation of government directed attacks against civilian targets. Riding the wave of the Arab Spring, the lack of a head of state in Syria would usher in the much anticipated transfer and restructuring of executive power. Russian and Chinese interests in Syria are centered on the relationship they had with Assad. With him then gone, Russian and Chinese resistance to a regime change would be effectively eliminated. Also, Iran enters the geopolitical implications of Syria. The recent actions of Bashar al-Assad and the repressive rule of the Assad family in Syria has fomented ire and disdain in the Syrian population. With the oppressive figure of Assad gone, the public would be free of that directed threat. The years of pent up angst would manifest itself in opposition to former Syrian allies. This would include Hezbollah, Russia, and Iran. The power vacuum left in the wake of this upheaval would be more favorable to U.S. interests – or at the very least, western aligned interests.

Methodology and Tactics:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) Logo
The assassination of Bashar al-Assad could easily be achieved by targeted sorties of the Syrian Presidential Palace in Damascus. However, this would be blatantly obvious and remove the plausible deniability of the U.S. So instead the U.S. would utilize opposition elements of the Free Syrian Army to execute the mission. The CIA will provide lethal aid to resistance groups. This can be achieved by outsourcing delivery of goods to Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This initial step is the base of the overall approach. The better armed the FSA is, the more effective they will be when combatting government security forces. Also, this blanket approach with escalate the conflict, forcing the Assad regime to focus more on internal affairs.

The main component of the covert action consists of two sub-parts. First is the deployment of U.S. Special Forces to southern Turkey to train the FSA elements selected for carrying out the targeted assassination mission(s) aimed at Bashar al-Assad. The second is the enlistment of intelligence and intelligence collection assets. These are needed to fully grasp the security challenges posed by targeting Assad. A wide array of SIGINT assets will be utilized in the Syrian theater. And to a lesser extent, the utilization of HUMINT assets that can be gleaned from Jordanian, Saudi, or Turkish intelligence counterparts. This will provide details as to the location and vulnerabilities of Assad.

For the training of the FSA to carry out a directed assassination, two specialized pieces of the U.S. Army will be needed. The CIA will locate and stage a training area in southern Turkey – with the assistance of the Turkish government. Delta Force will be primarily responsible for the training of the FSA elements with the 101st Airborne Division providing security and general assistance at the camp. The training will have to take place at an accelerated rate, but given the fact that the FSA is comprised of a large number of Syrian Security Forces defectors, the training can be adapted and tailored to incorporate what formal military training they have. The use of these two U.S. Army elements will make the integration of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) easier. In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will all be utilized to provide solid, actionable intelligence to the FSA.

Risks to the U.S.:

The U.S. runs the risk of angering the remnants of the Assad regime. If the assassination is successful, a fractured and loosely coordinated counter offensive could be launched against U.S. assets in the region. Certainly if the involvement of the U.S. or regional allies were to be revealed, they would face reprisals from Iran, Hezbollah, or the remnants of the Assad regime. Turkey, Jordan, and Israel would be the targeted for revenge attacks. If Assad were to survive, his response would be focused on the FSA and regional allies would also likely face similar threats. The Middle East is in such a state in which Assad has been singled out and the Arab League want to see him go. The only elements that would essentially be opposed to U.S. intervention at this time would be extremist elements, which is a battle of opinion and perception that cannot be won regardless.

Diplomatic Challenges:

If it was revealed that the U.S. may have had ties to an assassination or attempted assassination of Bashar al-Assad, tensions with Russia and China would increase. And the international community, most likely via the UN, would condemn the U.S.’s action – but only on a superficial level. The U.S. State Department has already exhausted all efforts to communicate and interact with the Assad regime. This is essentially the last and final step for seeking a favorable outcome in Syria. Iran would be furious, but since the U.S. has had cutoff diplomatic ties, not much is to be lost here. If anything, this would send a message to Tehran about the power of the U.S. in light of its own nuclear program. Furthermore, Ankara has been looking for an excuse to intervene in Syria, and with U.S. support they would be more than willing to assist and comply with U.S. efforts and plans.

Costs and Materials:

The man power required would be a limited amount, about 3-4 platoons, of U.S. Special Forces operators. As previously mentioned, the CIA station chief stationed in Istanbul would organize the FSA training camps to be located in southern Turkey. 1-2 platoons from the 101st Airborne and 2 platoons from Delta Force would be the principle operators of the training efforts. The 101st Airborne would provide security and would collaborate with the Turkish intelligence services (MİT) for logistics. The weapons used for training and arming the FSA would have to be Russian or non-NATO arms as to misdirect focus from the U.S. and Turkey. The assumed fiscal cost would be $1.5 million for material costs, $1.25 million for man power and training costs, and about $2.25 million for intelligence related activities.

Likelihood of Success:

The likelihood of operational success in assassinating Bashar al-Assad would be highly probable. Furthermore, the probability for actually achieving the goals set forth as a result of Assad’s removal would be moderately high. The cessation of government violence targeting civilian populations would be nearly immediate and a regime change would follow. Turkish and FSA assets would be willing to comply and their goals would be in line with ours.

Op-Sec and Plausible Deniability:

Maintaining the clandestine and secret nature of this operation is of paramount importance. The main focus in doing so is aimed at the international response to the U.S. involvement and the potential for negative consequences. The sparse and loosely populated region of southern Turkey would provide good cover for the training. And given the known NATO ally status the U.S. shares with Turkey, the activities could be written off as a joint training exercise. The proximity to the Syrian refugee camps would also aid in the FSA recruitment efforts. With such a high likelihood of success and the dire situation, the FSA would largely comply and be willing – fully knowing that secrecy is paramount.

The domestic U.S. reaction would most likely be indifference or mild appraisal of the efforts. Assad has never been favorable from the U.S. perspective and as such the U.S. public opinion does not favor him either. There might be general backlash over facilitating assassination or regime change, but that minor opposition is heavily outweighed by the value placed on U.S. interest and goals.

Recommendation for Mission Green-Light:

As it currently stands, the bloody struggle in Syria is ongoing despite multilateral ceasefire talks. The violence continued even despite the past presence of UN observers. These infractions were noted by the head observer in the region, Major General Robert Mood, after only just arriving in Syria. However it remained unclear which side was directly at fault. Confirmation of the fracturing cease-fire was given on 1 May 2012 when the UN Peace-Keeping Chief Herve Ladsous said, “The important fact is that violations do come from both sides.” [Link Here]

Even though Syria has used and implemented the prototypical style of a mass atrocity military campaign, no external force has yet to intervene militarily or humanitarianly. The route of diplomacy is hindered. As a veto power, Russia will not let a binding resolution ousting Bashar al-Assad to pass though the UN. Moscow has made it quite clear that the cost of human life is not a consideration in their Syrian ledger. The atrocities in Syria are unfolding before the eyes of the world. The only option is direct military action aimed at removing Assad. Given the considerations listed previously, it should go without question that authorization be given to this mission. The interests and goals of the U.S. are such that this mission is desperately needed. The high probability for success and the availability for the needed cooperation also underscore the justification for the mission. The evidence gathered suggests that the U.S. government is well advised in conducting this covert action.





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