U.S., allies risk benefiting Syria’s Assad by striking militants

Stars and Stripes reports: One year ago, the Obama administration considered a cruise missile strike on Syria, but the target was not the Islamic State or al-Qaida.

The president accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of murdering over 1,000 citizens with poison gas. But U.S. air strikes never came. Instead, the U.S. opted to negotiate the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, and Assad continued a bloody war against his opponents that has killed an estimated 200,000 Syrians over more than three years.

Administration officials said again this week that Assad must relinquish power. But the new U.S.-led air war there against the Islamic State and al-Qaida offshoots Khorasan and the Nusra Front puts the administration in a precarious position – it is counting on Assad’s ouster while pounding some of his most dangerous enemies from the air.

Islamic State and Nusra Front fighters in Syria are among the most effective opposition forces battling a regime that Washington opposes. The U.S. plan to arm and train moderate rebels is still in its infancy. Aircraft and missile strikes against Islamist fighters and facilities in the north runs the risk of strengthening Assad in his fight to hold on to power. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal adds: “The only beneficiary of foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, in the absence of any real strategy to topple it,” said Hamza al-Shamali, the commander of moderate rebel group Harakat Hazm, which is close to Qatar.

The group opposed the airstrikes, calling them a breach of Syria’s national sovereignty.

Reactions of Syrian rebel groups reflected the rifts and competing loyalties and agendas that have plagued the opposition fighters since the start of the conflict more than three years ago.

Rebels of all stripes have been battling both the Islamic State and Mr. Assad. And while regime forces and the Islamic State have largely avoided direct confrontation, this changed after the group grabbed significant territory in eastern Syria and neighboring Iraq starting in June.

There were differences and confusion even among the relatively moderate groups that have been the beneficiaries of U.S. and Western arms, training and other forms of support.

The head of the rebel umbrella group known as the Fifth Legion of the Free Syrian Army welcomed the airstrikes but said they had to also extend to “the source of terrorism: the Assad regime.” The Western-backed group said greater coordination with rebels on the ground was needed to avert civilian casualties.

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