UNITED NATIONS—Syria’s foreign minister said on Monday that the US-led bombing campaign should be expanded to target other militant groups besides the Islamic State (IS) group, noting that the fight against terrorism has aligned the Syrian regime with its Western and Arab opponents in a fight against a common enemy.
“They have the same ideology. They have the same extremist ideology,” Walid al-Moallem told the Associated Press in urging a widening of the US-led aerial campaign to include all Islamic rebel factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Speaking earlier at the UN General Assembly, the Syrian foreign minister denounced what he called the United States’s “dual policy” of striking at some militants in Syria while providing money, weapons and training to others, calling it a recipe for more violence and terrorism. Such behavior creates a “fertile ground” for the continued growth of extremism in countries, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, al-Moallem told world leaders. Washington and Arab allies opened their air assault against the extremist group last week in Syria, going after the group’s military facilities, training camps, heavy weapons and oil installations.
The campaign expands upon the air strikes the United States has been conducting against the militants in Iraq since early August.
Some of the initial strikes in Syria targeted the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, hitting several of its facilities and killing dozens of its fighters.
Washington said it was trying to take out an al-Qaeda cell known as the Khorasan Group that the US says was actively plotting attacks against Americans and Western interests.
On Monday al-Moallem said the IS group, the Nusra Front and all Islamic groups fighting the Assad regime were on the same side and all should be hit.
Asked whether the strikes should include the loose umbrella rebel group known as the Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the US and its allies, he said that group “does not exist anymore.”
In the interview, al-Moallem tried to position his country as being on the same side as the US-led coalition. Asked whether Syria considered itself now aligned with the West because both were fighting the same enemy, al-Moallem replied: “This is the fact.”
“We are fighting ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], they are fighting ISIS,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms.
In an interview aired on Sunday, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the bombing campaign could ultimately help Assad stay in power. While the White House continues to call for Assad’s departure and has consistently condemned his actions in a three-year civil war, diplomatic negotiations to oust him have largely stalled and Obama has shown no appetite for using military power to force him out.
Given that the IS group is one of the Syrian government’s strongest opponents, the strikes have created an unexpected alignment between the US and Assad that the Syrian president is seeking to exploit in order to gain legitimacy.