The US-led strikes in Syria have made no difference, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a French magazine Wednesday, as he accused Turkey of supporting terrorism.
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.
Asked whether the US-led airstrikes had been helpful to him, Assad, whose army has been fighting the extremist groups for over three years, told Paris Match: “You can’t end terrorism with aerial strikes.
“Troops on the ground that know the land and can react are essential. That is why there haven’t been any tangible results in the two months of strikes led by the coalition,” he said according to interview extracts on Paris Match’s website in English.
On Wednesday, representatives of the countries involved in the coalition met in Brussels and issued a statement saying ISIS’ advance was allegedly “being stopped.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the aerial campaign had inflicted serious damage on ISIS but the fight could take years.
“It isn’t true that the strikes are helpful. They would of course have helped had they been serious and efficient,” Assad asserted in the interview.
Damascus, Iran and other critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, FINANCING and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.
In a speech mid October, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that “America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions – the wicked government of Britain – created al-Qaeda and Da’esh (ISIS) in order to create divisions among Muslims.”
“A careful and analytic look at the developments reveals that the US and its allies, in efforts that are falsely termed countering Daesh [ISIS], seek to create division and enmity among the Muslims rather to destroy the root causes of that (terrorist) current,” Khamenei 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 issue arms and weapons supplied to the so-called moderate rebels by Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said in a report last month that the US-led airstrikes against ISIS in Syria “have led to some civilian casualties.”
“We are running the ground battles against Daesh, and we have noticed no change, especially with Turkey providing direct support to these regions,” Assad added, using the Arab acronym for ISIS.
The Syrian government consistently accused Turkey, a NATO member and one of Washington’s key allies in the region, of playing a major role in fueling the armed crisis in Syria by opening its borders and allowing free access to foreign jihadists into Syria.
Last week, a video published on Al-Mayadeen news channel’s website revealed that up to 100 civilians and militants cross the Syrian-Turkish border daily under the surveillance of the Turkish army, which never interferes.
The border has become a safe haven for militants to move freely and smuggle weapons and aid inside Syria into the regions they occupy.
Damascus has repeatedly accused Turkey of harboring, financing, training, and arming militants since violence erupted in March 2011.
The Syrian government sent letters to the United Nations time and again attacking Turkey’s “destructive” role in the Syrian conflict.
In 2013, Syria’s foreign ministry said in letters addressed to the UN Security Council and to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that “Turkey supports and publicly justifies terrorist, destructive acts against Syria” and “has turned its territory into camps used to house, train, finance and infiltrate armed terrorist groups, chief among them the al-Qaeda network and the al-Nusra Front.”
Turkey denies Damascus’ accusations.
Meanwhile, asked whether he feared the same demise as the late rulers of Iraq and Libya, Assad replied:
“The captain doesn’t think about death, or life, he thinks about saving his ship.
“If he thinks about sinking, everyone will die. I am doing my best to save the country,” he said in the interview conducted on Friday in Damascus.
The Syrian president said his goal had never been to remain president before, during or after Syria’s internal conflict, which the United Nations says has killed around 200,000 people since 2011.
Moreover, Assad said Damascus was always willing to work with any French government if it was in their common interests but said President Francois Hollande’s administration was working against the interests of both the Syrian and French people.
France backs so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria. Its forces have taken part in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria.
“I am neither a personal enemy nor rival of Hollande. I think that Daesh is his rival, their popularity is very much the same,” Assad said, in what appeared a reference to Hollande’s low popularity rating of 12 percent, according to a poll on Thursday.
Assad’s role in any future transition to end the bloody, nearly four-year Syrian conflict is the subject of much controversy.
The opposition – as well as countries such as Turkey and France – insist that the Syrian leader must go no matter what happens.
In June, Assad won a landslide victory in the Syrian presidential poll with 88.7 percent of the vote.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held on Monday:
“Are we insisting on Assad to be in power? I would like to convey that question to the Syrian people. An election was held there and we saw that Assad has major support.”
Russia has been a steady ally of Assad throughout the almost four-year conflict but has heightened its support for the government after the rise and expansion of Islamist militant groups.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “Russia will continue to support Syria in countering the threat of terrorism,” indicating that there was no room for compromise on the issue of “terrorism” in the Syrian conflict.
Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said that Assad would remain president and lead any form of transition, ahead of January peace talks that ended in failure over a year ago.