Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group has backed President Barack Obama’s authorization of U.S. airstrikes targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group inside Syria for the first time.
“The Syrian Coalition ... stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat ISIS but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime,” Reuters quoted coalition president Hadi al-Bahra as saying in a written statement.
In a prime-time address to the nation from the White House, Obama announced he was authorizing U.S. airstrikes inside Syria, along with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out ISIS extremists and their spreading reign of terror.
The Syrian Coalition said it had “long called for this action, and... warned time and again of the growing threat of this extremist group.”
“We urge the U.S. Congress to approve the president’s policy as soon as possible, and allow the training and equipping of the Free Syrian Army,” it said.
The moderate Free Syrian Army “can succeed, but it needs the necessary support that would enable it to form a reliable and well-equipped force,” the statement added.
It warned however that it was key to “realize that the Assad regime represents the root cause of the violence, brutality and sense of impunity prevailing in Syria.”
Combating ISIS “alone cannot bring about a stable and extremist-free region,” the group said.
“It takes degrading and ultimately removing the Assad repressive regime seeking the perpetual destabilization of the entire region for the sole purpose of staying in power.”
Syria’s government has sought to present itself as a partner in the fight against militants including ISIS.
But it has insisted any military action in its territory must be done in coordination with the government in Damascus.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, will press Arab leaders to support Obama’s plans for a new military campaign against ISIS militants.
Obama: ‘degrade and destroy’
He said: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” using a different acronym for the group, and pledged to strengthen Syria’s opposition.
But he made sure to say that there will not be any U.S. troops on ground.
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”
ISIS has carried out abuses including beheadings and crucifixions, and faced a backlash from Syrian rebel groups opposed to its violations and harsh interpretation of Islam.
Multitude of foes in Syria
For the United States, launching its airstrikes in Syria will not be an easy operation as more than two enemies are fighting in the conflict-stricken country.
“We have three sides all moving and fighting among each other,” Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi told Al Arabiya News, adding “ISIS is the Assad regime’s foe. ISIS is the moderate opposition’s enemy and the moderate opposition and Assad are fighting [against eachother].”
Khashoggi said the U.S. and its allies need to reiterate their stance regarding Assad’s regime since targeting ISIS will also be of help to Damascus.
“A military operation against ISIS should not be threatened by other foes’ air forces [such as Assad’s],” he said, asking “how will the U.S. target ISIS without a no-fly zone in Syria?”
Obama was criticized as “ambiguous” by some observers as he did not chart any strategy on how to tackle or deal with Assad’s air force.
Meanwhile, UK-based defense analyst Paul Beaver said the U.S. and its allies will maximize their advantage by using laser guarded and precision weapons and added that their task should be made easier as ISIS is easily recognizable.
“ISIS is very prominent in the way they operate, they fly their flags, they are very jihadist, they jump up and down, they can be easily targeted,” Beaver said.
However, he described ISIS as “cowardly,” warning that there will be collateral damage since “they will probably hide behind women and children, or in mosques.”
The airstrikes will, however, be able to destroy their command headquarters and heavy equipment in order to embolden “friendly Syrian opposition forces,” he stated.
In addition to the United States and its allies with the exception of Turkey, the U.N.’s new envoy on the conflict said in Damascus on Thursday that the world must confront “terrorist groups” in Syria and beyond but the war-ravaged country.
“The terrorist groups need to be confronted and that’s clear,” Staffan de Mistura told journalists after meeting Assad on his first trip to Damascus since being appointed.
“But there is no contradiction and indeed complementarity in fighting terrorism both with security measures... but also with (an) accelerated and effective, all-inclusive political process.”
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans and Democrats reacted Wednesday night to Obama’s expanded campaign of military airstrike.
House Speaker John Boehner said Obama “has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”
He added: “A speech is not the same thing as a strategy, however. While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California said: “I support the president taking military action in Iraq and Syria to combat this organization. I also support his request for additional authority to support the moderate, vetted Syrian opposition. But more must be done.”
While Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees who is facing a tough re-election, said “the American people must be assured that we are not pursuing another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, and I will not give this president - or any other president - a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq.”
(With AFP, Associated Press and Reuters)