Assad raises prospect of clashes with US forces in Syria
BEIRUT: President Bashar al-Assad raised the possibility of conflict with US forces in Syria if they do not withdraw from the country soon.
In an interview with Russia’s RT international broadcaster, Assad said he would negotiate with fighters backed on the ground by Washington, but would reclaim territory they control by force if necessary, whether or not American troops supported them.
Assad also responded sharply to US President Donald Trump’s description of him as an animal, saying “what you say is what you are”.
Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, appears militarily unassailable in the war that has killed an estimated half a million people, uprooted around 6 million people in the country, and driven another 5 million abroad as refugees.
Around 2,000 US special forces troops are believed to be on the ground in Syria, where they have aided a group called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by the YPG, a Kurdish militia.
The US-backed group holds the largest area of Syrian territory outside government control, but has tried to avoid direct clashes with the government during the multi-sided war. Assad said the government had “started now opening doors for negotiations” with the SDF.
“This is the first option. If not, we’re going to resort to … liberating those areas by force. We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans,” he said in a text of the interview published by Syria’s state news agency.
“The Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave,” he said, adding that Washington should learn the lesson of its war in Iraq, which lasted longer and was much costlier than anticipated.
“They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.
Trump said in April he wanted to withdraw American troops from Syria relatively soon, but also voiced a desire to leave a “strong and lasting footprint”.