Obama claims Russian airstrikes ‘strengthening ISIS’
In his first public comments since Russia launched anti-terrorist airstrikes in Syria, US President Barack Obama was fiercely harsh, claiming that Moscow’s military operation was counterproductive and is not distinguishing between Islamic State targets and the so-called moderate opposition.
The US leader accused Russia of weakening the Syrian rebels’ chances of eventually toppling President Assad’s government and somehow strengthening ISIS as a result.
“The moderate opposition in Syria is one that, if we ever going to have a political transition, we need. And the Russian policy is driving those folks underground or creating a situation in which they are decapacitated and it is only strengthening ISIL,” said Obama.
At the same time, the US President admitted that the Pentagon’s support to the so-called moderate rebels has not worked the way it was planned, because the rebels consider President Assad their primary target and are not willing to confront Islamic State.
“The training and equip program was a specific initiative by the Defense Department to see if we could get some of that moderate opposition to focus attention of ISIL in the eastern portion of the country,” Obama said. “And I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to, and I think that the Department of Defense would say the same thing.”
“The problem here is Assad and the brutality he’s inflicted on the Syrian people,” Obama stated, adding that the US will continue to support moderate opposition groups to ensure an eventual transition to “democracy.”
“It was in our interest to make sure that we were engaged with[the] moderate opposition inside of Syria because eventually Syria will fall. The Assad regime will fall, and we have to have somebody who are working with, that we can help pick up the pieces and stitch back together a cohesive, coherent country.”
Addressing the UN General Assembly earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the creation of a broad and unified coalition to confront Islamic State and other extremist groups in the region in coordination with forces fighting terrorists on the ground.
A joint Information Center has been set up in Baghdad and is already collecting intelligence and sharing recon data among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Russia, while other interested parties were welcome to join. Obama however played down Russia’s initiative, saying that only “Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment, the rest of the world makes up ours.”
At the same time the US President noted that the United States should not get more involved in Syria militarily without making sure that the lessons of the past have been learnt and that they will be able to “finish” the job. In Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said, the US has devoted “enormous time, effort and resources with the very best people and have given the Afghan people and the Iraqi people an opportunity for democracy, but it is still hard.”
Although Washington and Moscow fundamentally disagree on the steps required resolve the chaos in Syria and broker a political solution, President Obama said that he will continue working with Vladimir Putin because it is not in anyone’s interest to “make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.”