U.S. President Barack Obama and his top foreign policy advisers are expected to meet on Friday to consider their military and other options in Syria as Syrian and Russian aircraft continue to pummel Aleppo and other targets, U.S. officials said.
Some top officials argue the United States must act more forcefully in Syria or risk losing what influence it still has over moderate rebels and its Arab, Kurdish and Turkish allies in the fight against Islamic State, the officials told Reuters.
One set of options includes direct U.S. military action such as air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
This official said one danger of such action is that Russian and Syrian forces are often co-mingled, raising the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia that Obama has been at pains to avoid.
U.S. officials said they consider it unlikely that Obama will order U.S. air strikes on Syrian government targets, and they stressed that he may not make any decisions at the planned meeting of his National Security Council.
One alternative, U.S. officials said, is allowing allies to provide U.S.-vetted rebels with more sophisticated weapons, although not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington fears could be used against Western airliners.
The White House declined to comment.
Friday’s planned meeting is the latest in a long series of internal debates about what, if anything, to do to end a 5-1/2 year civil war that has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population.
The ultimate aim of any new action could be to bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It also might temper a sense of betrayal among moderate rebels who feel Obama encouraged their uprising by calling for Assad to go but then abandoned them, failing even to enforce his own “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
This, in turn, might deter them from migrating to Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, which the United States regards as Syria’s al Qaeda branch. The group in July said it had cut ties to al Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. ANOTHER TRY AT DIPLOMACY
The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers will meet in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday to resume their failed effort to find a diplomatic solution, possibly joined by their counterparts from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but
U.S. officials voiced little hope for success.
Friday’s planned meeting at the White House and the session in Lausanne occur as Obama, with just 100 days left in office, faces other decisions about whether to deepen U.S. military involvement in the Middle East — notably in Yemen and Iraq — a stance he opposed when he won the White House in 2008.
Earlier Thursday the United States launched cruise missiles at three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi forces, retaliating after failed missile attacks this week on a U.S. Navy destroyer, U.S. officials said.
In Iraq, U.S. officials are debating whether government forces will need more U.S. support both during and after their campaign to retake Mosul, Islamic State’s de facto capital in the country.
Some officials argue the Iraqis now cannot retake the city without significant help from Kurdish peshmerga forces, as well as Sunni and Shi’ite militias, and that their participation could trigger religious and ethnic conflict in the city.
In Syria, Washington has turned to the question of whether to take military action after its latest effort to broker a truce with Russia collapsed last month.
The United States has called for Assad to step down, but for years has seemed resigned to his remaining in control of parts of the country as it prosecutes a separate fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and in Iraq.
The U.S. policy is to target Islamic State first, a decision that has opened it to charges that it is doing nothing to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and particularly in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Renewed bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo has killed more than 150 people this week, rescue workers said, as Syria intensifies its Russian-backed offensive to take the whole city.
Anthony Cordesman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank suggested the United States’ failure to act earlier in Syria, and in Aleppo in particular, had narrowed Obama’s options.
“There is only so long you can ignore your options before you don’t have any,” Cordesman said.
(Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by John Walcott; editing by Stuart Grudgings)
Peace and Freedom was told by a senior military officer that, “It could be that in this case, Russia, Iran, Assad’s Forces, Daesh and Hezbollah have us cornered.” There is some speculation that President Obama can do very little in the way of a meaningful change in outcomes in Syria — but he could be looking for a way to stabilize the situation until after the U.S. election.
Assad says US playing Syria terrorism card as part of perpetual struggle for global dominance
Stating that the West and especially the United States never stopped the Cold War mentality in pursuit of world dominance, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Assad said that global tensions, especially when it comes Syria, are escalating into World War III.
“The whole issue is about keeping the hegemony of the Americans around the world, not allowing anyone to be a partner on the political or international arena, whether Russia or even their allies in the West,” Assad said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda.
While one is yet to see a full-blown clash between the world biggest military powers, Assad stated that the struggle is partly manifested in military confrontation, as seen in Syria, while other strands of the tensions revolve around the issues of “terrorism and security,” as well as “political” outlook.
In the Syrian conflict, the US is using terrorists to achieve its own and its allies’ objectives in the wider Middle East, the main goal of which is to weaken Damascus’ regional ally – Iran. In 2011, when the Syrian conflict began, world powers were negotiating with Iran over its atomic enrichment program.
“It was the main issue around the world, and Syria has to convince Iran to go against its interests, that time. France tried, Saudi Arabia wanted us at that time to be away from Iran with no reason, just because they hate Iran,” Assad said, adding that Damascus received offers to that end after the conflict started in Syria.
“The offers [from Saudi Arabia] started after the crisis … because they wanted to use the crisis … ‘if you do this, we’re going to help you’… that if you move away from Iran and you announce that you disconnect all kinds of relations with Iran, we’re going to help you. Very simple and very straight to the point,” the Syrian leader said.
After the conflict started, the US and its regional allies used the terrorists which, according to Assad, the US created, to push through its agenda.
“The United States has always, since Afghanistan in the early eighties, until this day, they think ‘terrorism is a card we can play. We can put on the table,’” the Syrian president said.
READ MORE: ‘Schizophrenic & incoherent’: US vows to fight Al-Qaeda… but refuses to battle offshoot Al-Nusra
Terrorists which proliferated widely after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, were financed and “whitewashed” by the extremist Sunni Wahhabism brand of Islam, exported by Saudi Arabia, he said.
“We all know that the majority of those terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, ISIS, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and other organizations. They don’t belong to any political movement, they don’t care about any ideology but their own ideology, the Wahhabi Ideology,” Assad said.
It is this threat that Russia is fighting now, Assad said, praising Moscow for its fight against terrorism while demanding nothing in return.
“We trust their [Russia’s] politics, politics based on morals before interests. We trust them because we know that they wanted to support us because they wanted to get rid of the terrorists, not because they want to ask us anything in return, and they never did. Until this moment, they never asked us for anything in return.”
“Russia wanted to fight terrorism … not only for Syria, not only for Russia, for the rest of the region, for Europe, for the rest of the world,” Assad said.
That battle now is now concentrated in Aleppo where jihadists are centered. Denying US-led criticisms that Russia and Syrian air forces are rather bombing the positions of the so-called moderate rebels, Assad emphasized that anyone who holds a weapon is a terrorist.
“Now, most of the world used the word ‘opposition’ about people who carry guns and kill people. You don’t call them opposition; ‘opposition’ is a political term; it cannot be a military term,” he said.
Assad believes there are no “moderates fighting” in Aleppo, saying that all armed groups there “work with al-Nusra in the area that’s controlled by al-Nusra.”
“How can you work in the same area if you are not under the control of al-Nusra? More importantly, many of their members – there are videos and pictures of them celebrating the death of Syrian Army soldiers, they were celebrating on their bodies … In Aleppo, you had fights, and they pictured themselves over the bodies of Syrian soldiers, the White Helmets with al-Nusra.”
But instead of presenting the horrors of Aleppo, Assad said western media is portraying terrorists as “good people who are sacrificing their lives to help the others and children.”
The only way to stop terrorism in short term is to annihilate armed militants, Assad believes, while in the long term focusing on efforts to battle the jihadist ideology.
“If you talk about those fighters, ideological fighters, or terrorists, let’s say, who are fighting our army, the only way is to fight them and kill them. You don’t have any other way. They are not ready for any dialogue, and you don’t have time to make dialogue, you want to protect your citizens, so you have to kill them,” the Syrian leader said.
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