The fragile Syrian ceasefire is “tenuous,” and the Russian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime has repeatedly breached it, said President Barack Obama.
Speaking after meeting with his top national security on the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters on Wednesday, President Obama declared, “The cessation is tenuous and under strain. We’ve seen repeated violations by the Assad regime, continued attacks by al Qaeda’s al-Nusra affiliate, and many Syrians continue to be deprived of desperately needed food, water and medicine.”
“Talks are now resuming in Geneva,” continued President Obama. “And the United States will continue to do everything that we can to help the cessation succeed and to advance a political solution to the Syrian civil war.”
The U.S. President called for a “transition away” from Assad.
Obama’s comments came a day after The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the CIA and its allies in the region were preparing a plan to provide more-powerful weapons to so-called moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad in case the ceasefire fails.
WSJ noted, “The preparations for a so-called Plan B center on providing vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions.”
Development of the weapons list is part of a broader behind-the-scenes effort by the Obama administration to deter its adversaries in the Syrian conflict while preventing the U.S.’s coalition partners who are supporting the moderate opposition from taking matters into their own hands.
Russia has been providing military assistance to the Assad government since the end of September 2015.
U.S. officials have reportedly conveyed to Russia that “the moderate opposition isn’t going away and that a return to full-scale fighting could end up putting more Russian pilots in danger,” WSJ reported.
At the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Obama noted that the future of Syria will be part of the discussion when he meets with leaders of Gulf State nations who oppose Assad in Saudi Arabia next week.
President Obama said:
Beyond Syria and Iraq, we continue to go after ISIL wherever it tries to rear its ugly head. We’re helping partners strengthen their security forces, from Africa to Afghanistan. As we, our allies and partners have made it harder for foreign terrorists to reach Syria and Iraq, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of ISIL fighters heading to Libya.
So we’re going to continue to use the full range of tools to roll ISIL back from Libya while assisting the new and nascent Libyan government as it works to secure their country. I do want to point out that even as we work to destroy ISIL, we continue to go after the remnants of al Qaeda that still pose a significant threat to U.S. interests, our allies and the homeland.
Last week, Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Pentagon reporters that the number of ISIS fighters in Libya who aspire to attack the West has more than doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last 12 to 18 months.
However, he added that Libyan militias have limited the jihadist group’s growth in the North African nation.
Obama pointed out that he directed his administration in February to accelerate the anti-ISIS campaign, adding, “And we have. This remains a difficult fight, and a complex one, involving many countries and different communities in Syria and in Iraq.”
Obama did say, “The cessation of hostilities in the Syrian civil war has largely held for about six weeks. It has reduced the violence, although not eliminated it, but that reduction is meaningful and it’s allowed some humanitarian aid to reach the Syrian people.”