"Our sense is right now he's very much in charge," of their military operations, one U.S. official said. Another noted, "He (Assad) might survive this." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The intelligence assessments run counter to a message voiced with confidence for months by senior administration officials including President Barack Obama, who told a White House news conference on Tuesday that "ultimately, this dictator will fall."
Perhaps more fundamentally, the analysis calls into question an American foreign policy that has been based on the idea that Assad's regime is overwhelmed and doomed.
In particular, the officials made it clear that the United States does not have a clear picture of what's going on inside Syria. For instance, while there have been some seemingly high-profile defections from the Syrian military and government — including, this week, a man who described himself as a deputy oil minister — Assad's regime has stayed mostly intact, which could suggest that the level of popular discontent with the dictator isn't as high as perceived.
On Friday, Turkey said that three high-ranking Syrian military officers — two generals and a colonel — had defected. Neither these nor the oil official, however, were key players, the U.S. officials said...
The Syrian conflict is seen as a struggle of Assad's Alawite Shiite minority against the majority Sunni population. But the officials said that while the military's leadership ranks are largely Alawite, the bulk of the soldiers carrying out orders are Sunni conscripts. Yet the military remains cohesive, they said.
One official noted that other minority Syrian populations — Christians, Kurds and Druze — "have not abandoned the regime yet."