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Obama Says Russia’s Syrian Airstrikes Are ‘Strengthening’ Islamic State

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US President Barack Obama has criticized Russia’s military involvement in Syria, saying that the current airstrikes fail to distinguish between the moderate opposition in Syria and the Islamic State.

Russia has recently begun launching airstrikes in Syria. On Friday alone, Russian aircraft performed 14 combats flights, while conducting six pinpoint airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Speaking at a Friday press conference, Obama said that support should be given to Syria’s moderate opposition, which is needed, “if we’re ever going to have to have a political transition … And the Russian policy is driving those folks underground or creating a situation in which they are de-capacitated, and it’s only strengthening ISIL. And that’s not good for anybody.”

In the opinion of Obama, what started off as peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad evolved into a civil war because the government met those protests with “unimaginable brutality.”

“This is not a conflict between the United States and any party in Syria; this is a conflict between the Syrian people and a brutal, ruthless dictator,” Obama said, adding that the reason Assad is still in power “is because Russia and Iran have supported him throughout this process.”

Obama said that in this regard, Russia’s current military engagements in Syria are not “particularly different from what they had been doing in the past — they’re just more overt about it.”

Obama said that in his recent discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin he was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive, and for Assad to resign.

Obama reiterated that he is will to work with Putin if the Russian President is willing to broker with Assad and Iran a political transition, “but that a military solution alone, an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire.”

Obama said that Russia’s current policy doesn’t distinguish between the Islamic State and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Assad go. “From their (Russia) perspective, they’re all terrorists. And that’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s one that I reject,” Obama added.

“We are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior,” Obama said.

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