Ceasefire brings hope for ending ‘proxy war’ in Syria, no truce with ISIS – Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama. © Carlos Barria
The US is skeptical about the Syrian ceasefire, but will do everything it can to make it work, President Barack Obama said after meeting with top security officials. The truce will not apply to Islamic State or Al-Nusra, the president added.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department following a meeting of the National Security Council, Obama was flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, and Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Addressing the cessation of hostilities scheduled to start in Syria at midnight local time Friday, Obama said that though there are “plenty of reasons for skepticism,” it could save lives if implemented.

“We don’t expect the violence to end immediately,” Obama said. There will be no ceasefire with IS, and groups like the Al-Nusra Front are expected to continue fighting as well, as they are “not part of any negotiations, and… hostile to the US,” in the president’s words.

In addition, for the first time ever, Obama acknowledged that outside actors have been involved in the conflict that has ravaged Syria since 2012.

“Syria is not just a civil war, but also a proxy war between regional powers,” the US president said.

However, the only time he mentioned the government in Damascus was to argue that Syria’s future “cannot include Bashar al-Assad,” who is currently the country’s elected leader.

“There is no alternative to managed transition away from Assad. It’s the only way to end the civil war and unite the Syrian people against terrorists,” Obama said.

In Obama’s telling, the Syrian Army has made no advances against IS. He also failed to acknowledge that a Russian air group was active in the country. He only mentioned a “coalition of local forces” making inroads against the IS capital of Raqqa, referring to a Kurdish-led group that has literally come under fire by Turkey in recent weeks.

That, too, went unacknowledged, as Obama credited Turkey’s tightening of border controls for diminishing the influx of foreign fighters to IS. He also claimed that US airstrikes on IS oil infrastructure and cash depots have reduced the terrorists’ revenue and hurt the paychecks and morale of their fighters.

On the other hand, Obama argued that the war is presently going better than it had been last month, or three months ago, pointing out that IS has not had a successful offensive since last summer. Russia’s operation against IS in Syria began on September 30 of last year.

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In addition to military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Syria, the US is involved everywhere else that IS has tried to take root, “from Algeria to Afghanistan,” Obama said, adding that his administration is also working with social media giants, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, to counter the terror group’s virtual reach.

The situation in Syria and Iraq is “one of the most complex the world has seen in recent times,” Obama said, describing the enemy as heavily entrenched in urban areas, using civilians as human shields, and leaving total devastation in the places from which it has been driven.

“ISIL is not a caliphate, it’s a crime ring,” the president said, quoting accounts from refugees that had returned to the ruins of their homes. “It’s a criminal gang pretending to be a state.”