Defeating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) remains the United States’ primary goal in Syria, not toppling the country’s dictator Bashar al-Assad, according to high-ranking officials in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump’s United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley suggested that U.S.-backed regime change in Syria is likely.
“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because all of the parties are going to see that Assad’s not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria,” Haley told CNN.
Some analysts and American lawmakers accused the Trump administration of sending mixed messages on its Syria policy, noting that while Haley indicated that getting rid of Assad is the administration’s priority, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson maintained that the U.S. is focused on defeating ISIS.
In separate interviews on Sunday, Tillerson and Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster noted that the administration’s decision to bomb Assad last week is not a sign that America has shifted its primary focus from defeating ISIS to pushing the Syrian dictator from power.
“Our priority is first the defeat of ISIS,” Tillerson told George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC News’s This Week on Sunday. “Once we can eliminate the battle against ISIS, conclude that—and it is going quite well—then we hope to turn our attention to cease-fire agreements between the regime and opposition forces.”
Lt. Gen. McMaster agreed that defeating ISIS must come “first,” adding, “Then also, it has to be a significant change in the nature of the Assad regime and its behavior in particular.”
Both Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Haley are right about this. What we really need to do, and what everyone who’s involved in this conflict needs to do is to do everything they can to resolve this civil war, to halt this humanitarian catastrophe, this political catastrophe, not only in Syria, but the catastrophe is affecting the greater Middle East, it’s affecting Europe and it’s a threat to the American people as well.
And so, to do that, what’s required is some kind of a political solution to that very complex problem… we are not saying that we are the ones who are going to affect that change.
Last week, President Trump ordered the U.S. military to strike an Assad base in northwestern Syria believed to have been housing the pilots who carried out a chemical weapons attack last Tuesday that killed as many as 100 people, including at least 27 children.
Citing a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Associated Press (AP) reports that Russia knew of last week’s chemical weapons assault in advance.
“Russia’s got to tell us which one it is. Either they knew that there were chemical weapons and they knew there was going to be chemical-weapons use and they just hid it from the international community, or they’re being played for fools by Assad by him having chemical weapons and they’re just in the dark and they don’t know anything about it,” declared Haley.
Support from Iran and Russia has kept Assad in power. Iran-allied fighters, including members of the terrorist group Hezbollah, and Russian military forces are fighting alongside Assad troops.