WASHINGTON - Gaps in US intelligence have hampered Washington's efforts to speed the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and develop a clear understanding of opposition forces inside the country, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Citing interviews with US and foreign intelligence officials, the daily reported that US spy agencies in recent months have expanded their efforts to gather intelligence on rebel forces and Assad's regime.
For the most part, however, limitations in intelligence have meant that they are consigned to monitoring intercepted communications and observing the conflict from a distance, the Post wrote.
By contrast, the CIA had a prominent role gathering intelligence from inside Egypt and Libya during revolts in those countries, according to the daily.
With no CIA operatives on the ground in Syria and only a handful stationed at key border posts, the US spy agency has been heavily dependent on its counterparts in Jordan and Turkey and on other regional allies.
The lack of intelligence also has complicated the Obama administration's efforts to navigate a crisis that carries the risk of bolstering insurgents sympathetic to Al-Qaeda or militant Islam, the newspaper reported.
The CIA's ability to operate inside Syria was hampered severely by the decision to close the US embassy in Damascus earlier this year, officials said.
The US administration is exploring ways to expand non-lethal support to Syrian opposition groups, officials told the Washington Post.
It said that the agency has supplied encryption-enabled communications gear to opposition groups, presumably enabling the United States to monitor their talks, and that a team of about a half dozen CIA officers based along the Turkey-Syria border has worked to vet opposition leaders and coordinate the flow of equipment and medical supplies.
Officials said the spy agency has not been involved in supplying weapons, but has shared intelligence with countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that are providing arms to the rebels.