Syria's Assad downplays U.S. strikes on Islamic State

Syria's Assad says U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State aren't changing civil war

The U.S.-led coalition’s more than 2-month-old air campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria has not significantly altered the shape of the battlefield, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in interview excerpts published Wednesday.

“It’s we who are battling against ISIS on the ground, and we haven’t sensed any change,” Assad told the French magazine Paris Match, according to portions of the interview published on the website of Syria’s state-run media.

The president also denied that the aerial assault had provided a boost to Syrian government forces in their battle against Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“To say that the coalition’s airstrikes are helping us is incorrect,” Assad told the French magazine [link in French], which is scheduled to publish the full interview Thursday. “We haven’t sensed any change, especially since Turkey is still providing direct support to ISIS in those areas.”

Assad has repeatedly accused the Turkish government of giving weapons, logistical support and other assistance to Al Qaeda-style militant groups, including Islamic State, fighting in Syria.

The government in Ankara, which has called for Assad to leave office, has denied assisting any of the militant groups operating along its more-than-500-mile border with Syria.

After more than three years of war, Syria has become a nation divided into swaths of government-controlled and rebel-held territory. About 200,000 people have been killed and much of the nation has been left in ruins. More than a third of the people have been forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Both the U.S.-led coalition and Assad government forces are arrayed against Islamic State in Syria. But the Obama administration has mounted only an aerial campaign against Islamic State in Syria and neighboring Iraq and has not committed combat troops.

In Iraq, the relationship between the United States and the government is much different than in Syria. Washington is working with Baghdad in a partnership against Islamic State, providing technical and advisory assistance to Iraqi military units. There is no such cooperation in Syria with the Assad government, though Washington and Damascus are technically on the same side in the battle against Islamic State.

The United States and some of its allies, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are sticking to their demand that Assad step down.

“It is no secret that the United States continues to believe that President Assad has lost legitimacy,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday in Brussels, where he met with other nations allied against Islamic State forces.

In the meeting, Kerry said that more than two months of bombing had helped slow militant momentum in both Syria and Iraq. But he also acknowledged that the battle to defeat Islamic State could take years.

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