Report: CIA analysts begin targeting extremists in Syria

CIA officials have begun assembling targeting intelligence on Islamic militant groups fighting alongside rebel forces in Syria in preparation for possible armed drone strikes against those individuals, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Agency officials have recently shifted several intelligence targeting analysts from its counterterrorism center in Langley, Va.,  from assignments focusing on Pakistan and Yemen to new operations in Syria, the newspaper said.

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Those CIA counterterrorism officers have paired up with agency counterparts tracking terror suspects affiliated to al Qaeda's Iraqi branch to form the new Syria targeting group, former and current intelligence officials tell the Times

This new Syria team has been tasked with developing a slate of options for CIA officials to address the growing infiltration of al Qaeda-liked terror groups into the ranks of rebel forces fighting to overthrow longtime Syrian president Bashar Assad. 

The CIA counterterrorism analysis group is also reportedly looking at possible options to take out Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, which have stoked concerns inside Washington that Assad may use those weapons against rebel fighters. 

Those options, according to the Times, run the gamut from non-lethal intervention options to executing armed drone strikes against targets inside Syria. 

Al Qaeda fighters, mostly from the group's Iraq cell known as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), have been flooding into Syria to join forces with anti-Assad forces since the onset of the now two-year civil war in the country, according to the Pentagon. 

Syria was a common thoroughfare for al Qaeda insurgents heading to Iraq during the bloodiest days of the war.

Until now, Pentagon leaders have been adamant that there was no evidence AQI or affiliated groups were operating with or had worked their way into the senior leadership of opposition forces in Syria. 

However, the threat of rebel forces being co-opted by terror groups like al Qaeda has been the main crux of the White House and Pentagon's opposition to providing arms and military support for to the rebellion. 

But with France and the United Kingdom looking to ship weapons to Syria's rebels, along with several Arab states already funneling arms to those anti-government forces, it has become increasingly difficult to ensure those armaments do not end up in the hands of al Qaeda fighters. 

Growing frustration with the United States' decision to withhold weapons to anti-Assad forces has prompted some rebel commanders to forge closer ties with al Qaeda leaders in the country. 

Al Qaeda fighters and other Islamic militant groups fighting in Syria have also reportedly begun to consolidate themselves into functional terror cells, using the current unrest in the country to establish a new Syria faction.