Assad Calls US Rebel-Training Plans “Illusory” in Latest Interview

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A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 26, 2015 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad giving an interview to US Foreign Affairs magazine's journalist in Damascus. AFP/SANA

Published Monday, January 26, 2015

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said US plans to train so-called moderate rebels to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group were "illusory" as they would eventually defect to the jihadists, in an interview published by American magazine Foreign Affairs on Monday.

Washington recently unveiled a project to train more than 5,000 “moderate” rebels in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to allegedly fight ISIS and topple the Syrian regime.

Assad said the planned US-trained force would be "illegal" and would be treated like any other rebel group.

“Without cooperation with Syrian troops, they are illegal, and are puppets of another country, so they are going to be fought like any other illegal militia fighting against the Syrian army,” Assad asserted.

“Bringing 5,000 from the outside will make most of them defect and join ISIS and other groups which is what happened during the last year. So that’s why I said it’s still illusory. It is not the 5,000 that are illusory, but the idea itself.”

“[US President Barack] Obama said that they [the ‘moderate opposition’] are a fantasy. When did this fantasy become reality?” he asked.

The Pentagon has itself acknowledged that identifying and vetting potential rebel recruits for training is a difficult task that cannot be accomplished quickly without significant risks.

“The question you have to ask the Americans is: which troops are you going to depend on? Definitely, it has to be Syrian troops. This is our land, this is our country. We are responsible,” Assad stated, rejecting both arming non-governmental troops as well as the deployment of American and foreign troops.

The US decision to train and equip rebel groups in Syria has been criticized by many who warn of dire repercussions for both the US and Syria.

Meanwhile, Gulf state Qatar, with the help of the US, has already been covertly training so-called moderate Syria rebels to fight the Syrian army and ISIS group as well as other extremist groups for over a year, Reuters reported in November.

The camp, south of the capital between Saudi Arabia's border and Udeid area, the largest US air base in the Middle East, is being used to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants and other rebels, the sources said.

A report by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists in Syria as well appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to rebels by Saudi Arabia.

Assad questioned the seriousness of the US-led campaign against the jihadists.

"What we've seen so far is just, let's say, window-dressing, nothing real," he said.

The US-led coalition of around 60 mainly Western and Arab states was formed several months after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group swept across northern Iraq, seizing swathes of territory and proclaiming a caliphate in parts of the country as well as regions in neighboring Syria.

"Did the United States put any pressure on Turkey to stop the support of al Qaeda? They didn’t; they haven’t," Assad said.

He was referring to his government's longstanding accusations that Turkey, a NATO member and one of Washington's key allies in the region, is playing a major role in fueling the armed crisis in Syria by opening its borders and allowing free access to foreign jihadists into Syria.

According to Assad, the only way the US can play an effective role in the fight against “terrorism” is if it pressured Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting and arming the militants, and made “legal cooperation with Syria” starting by “asking permission from our government to make such attacks” against ISIS.

Asked if the Syrian army will eventually defeat the armed insurgents militarily, Assad said:
“If they don’t have external support, and no, let’s say, supply and recruitment of new terrorists within Syria, there will be no problem defeating them. Even today we don’t have a problem militarily. The problem is that they still have this continuous supply, mainly from Turkey."

Assad said that despite the Security Council resolution No. 2170, which forbids supporting al-Nusra and ISIS militarily, financially, or logistically, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are still supporting these factions on all three levels.

A foreign Islamist fighter who joined the Syrian rebel ranks in 2012 told Reuters that the Turkish borders “were wide open” and armed rebels “used to get in and out of Turkey very easily. No questions were asked. Arms shipments were smuggled easily into Syria.”

Meanwhile, a UN report published in December singled out Turkey as a major transit point for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.

Questioning talks with the opposition

The Syrian leader also questioned talks to be held in Moscow this week, telling Foreign Affairs magazine that his government will attend but that he was not convinced the opposition figures taking part represented Syrians on the ground.

Assad said the nearly 4-year-old conflict could only be ended with a political solution, but cast doubt on the value of talks being organized this week by his key ally Russia.

The dialogue, which is due to open later on Monday, was intended to bring together government and opposition representatives, but the one of the exiled opposition blocs, the Syrian National Coalition, is boycotting it.

Assad said his government would attend, but asked: "Who do you negotiate with?”

"We have institutions, we have an army and we have influence, positive or negative, in any direction, at any time," he said. "The people we are going to negotiate with, who do they represent?"

His government has long argued that the exiled opposition does not represent people inside Syria, accusing it of being "puppets" of its main foreign backers, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

Assad said that “engaging in a dialogue is different from taking decisions, which is not done by the government or the opposition,” adding that he would not agree to any kind of political transition unless there is a referendum that supports it.

“You have to separate the national [opposition] and the puppets. Not every dialogue is fruitful.”

The Syrian president concluded his interview by delivering a message to Obama and all Americans.

“What do you get from supporting terrorists in our country, in our region? What did you get from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood a few years ago in Egypt and other countries? What did you get from supporting someone like [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan]? ... Why do you fail in every war? You can create war, you can create problems, but you cannot solve any problem.”

Israeli strikes on Syria

Besides Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Assad said Israel has also been supporting the armed rebels.

“They [the Israelis] are supporting the rebels in Syria. It’s very clear. Because whenever we make advances in some place, they make an attack in order to undermine the army. It’s very clear. That’s why some in Syria joke: ‘How can you say that al-Qaeda doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force,’” he said.

In the past year, Israel has reportedly carried out a number of raids allegedly targeting key Syrian targets and positions of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran.

On January 18, an Israeli airstrike on the Syrian city of Quneitra near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters, including a commander and the son of assassinated senior commander Imad Mughniyeh, as well as an Iranian general.

Observers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) confirmed in a report published in December that the Israeli army was cooperating with militant groups in Syria.

The report revealed ongoing communication between armed groups’ leaders and Israeli army officers, saying that “59 meetings took place from March 2013 to May, and that during this same period 89 injured militants were transported to Israeli hospitals, and 19 of them were returned to Syria along with two bodies.”

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Comments

It is said that all these terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other places are supported by what Pepe Escobar calls the Empire of Chaos and their subversive agents in vassal states like Turkey, Wahhabi Arabia, Qatar, and others. Erdogan of Turkey may think he is a president, but in reality he is just another agent like Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and we know what the Empire did to Saddam after all his fancy belly dancing to please the Empire. The objective of the Empire of Chaos is to use goons of mercenaries to bring about chaos through destructive wars and terrorism in the target countries so as to demolish stable governments and create non-states such as Libya, and then start catching fish in the muddy waters.

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