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Researcher cited by Kerry, McCain on Syria fired by think tank

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. researcher whose writings about the merits of moderate opposition forces in Syria were cited by Secretary of State John Kerry has been fired from a non-partisan think tank for misrepresenting her academic record, the group said on Wednesday.

Elizabeth O'Bagy had been a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. Her recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, saying that moderate opposition forces continued to lead the fight against the Syrian government, was cited by both Kerry and Senator John McCain in congressional hearings last week as they argued for U.S. intervention in Syria.

But on Wednesday, the institute said on its website that it had "learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O'Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O'Bagy's employment, effective immediately."

The ISW's president, Kim Kagan, told Reuters the move was not a repudiation of O'Bagy's work, which she described as excellent.

"I stand by her assessments and her work," Kagan said. "This is a terrible tragedy."

O'Bagy, who also is the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit rebel support group based in Washington, could not be reached for comment.

A senior State Department official asked to comment said that Kerry had presumed that media outlets had accurately represented O'Bagy's credentials when he referred to her work last week.

"Clearly, the larger point that Kerry was making stands: that the U.S. has spent a great deal of time and effort working with the moderate Syrian opposition to provide it with assistance and to help it strengthen it and increasingly coalesce," the official said.

The Wall Street Journal article initially listed only O'Bagy's affiliation at the Institute for the Study of War. It later added a clarification on its website that she was also affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Last May, O'Bagy and others at the Syrian Emergency Task Force organized a short trip by McCain into Syria to meet with General Salim Idriss, commander of the Free Syrian Army.

(Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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