US President Barack Obama has instructed his national security advisers to review the administration’s policy on Syria and make removing embattled President Bashar Assad from power a key element in defeating the Islamic State group in Iraq, CNN reported Thursday.
According to a report from the American news network, the US administration is moving away from its previous strategy of confronting IS in Iraq first and then dealing with Assad in Syria.
Officials now see replacing the Damascus regime as a necessary step to success in Iraq.
In the past week national security teams convened four times, including one meeting that was chaired by Obama himself, with the aim of melding the Syrian and IS strategies.
“The long-running Syria problem is now compounded by the reality that to genuinely defeat ISIL [Islamic State], we need not only a defeat in Iraq but a defeat in Syria,” one unnamed official told CNN.
However, National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey maintained that the overall strategy of IS in Iraq first with Syria later, remains the same but it is being updated to reflect developments in the field.
“The strategy with respect to Syria has not changed: While the immediate focus remains to drive ISIL out of Iraq, we and coalition partners will continue to strike at ISIL in Syria to deny them safe haven and to disrupt their ability to project power,” he said.
In October the US stressed that its focus was on Iraq and that direct military activities regarding Syria would be limited to those that support the Iraqi operation.
The US-led coalition’s aerial campaign in Syria began before dawn on September 23 in what Obama has called an effort to roll back and ultimately destroy the Islamic State group.
The airstrikes in Syria expanded upon a US-led operation in neighboring Iraq against the Islamic State group, which has seized control of a large chunk of territory spanning the two countries.
In Iraq, government security forces and Shiite militias have largely halted the militants’ advance, even rolling them back from some areas with the help of coalition airstrikes. But heavy fighting still rages on multiple fronts, and attacks on government troops and civilians remain common, particularly in Baghdad.
In Syria, where the administration was planning on waiting to confront the Islamic State and Assad, the Pentagon is now considering expanding and speeding up its program of vetting and training moderate rebels.
Obama had wanted $500 million to train 5,000 Syrian rebels within a year on condition that they are vetted first to ensure their intentions are aligned with US interests. The vetting process has proved to be tricky and not yet even begun, the report said.
Including the ouster of Assad will also allow Washington to firm up its coalition, whose members have been irritated at the less enthusiastic attitude of the US when it comes to removing Assad.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be in talks with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Russia to look at a diplomatic ousting of Assad. However, officials say that while Russia, which has backed Assad in the civil war, has said it is ready to see him leave office, Moscow has not taken any practical steps to that end.
Obama has announced plans to double the number of American troops in Iraq to up to 3,100 as US-led efforts against the jihadists enter what he called a “new phase.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.