Syrian groups supported by the U.S. are fighting each other instead of focusing on ISIS, frustrating U.S. policymakers and hindering efforts to finish off the terrorist group.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, expressed a desire for the rebel groups to cease infighting and focus on destroying ISIS during a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday. The shift in the rebels’ focus from fighting ISIS to each other and the Syrian government comes as the Syrian military has increased its bombing campaign against rebel forces.
“We want them to stop fighting each other and start fighting Daesh [ISIS],” said Warren, “there’s a civil war going on right now. Civil wars have confusion and that’s what we see playing out here.”
He also noted that the ability for the U.S. to properly direct rebel forces is limited, given the lack of U.S. military presence in Syria. “At the end of the day we’re not there on the ground to force people to do anything,” he said.
The rebel infighting comes at a precarious time in both the Syrian civil war and the fight against ISIS. On the Iraqi front, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their allies are preparing an assault on ISIS in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Saudi and Turkish forces are massing on the Turkish-Syrian border, poised to engage both ISIS and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has made significant gains, despite a recent attempt to secure a “cessation of hostilities.”
When asked whether or not Russia is supporting a potential ceasefire, Warren noted that not only has Russian bombing “continued at pace,” but it also increased since talks began. A report Monday claimed that Russian air strikes hit three civilian hospitals in Syria, killing at least 20 people. Russia has denied responsibility for the strikes on the hospitals. Warren was unable to confirm whether it was Russian or Syrian strikes were responsible, but he was confident that one of the two countries was almost certainly responsible.
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