US air-strikes fueling growth of ISIS?
The Sept. 23 US air-strikes on the so-called "Khorasan Group" near Aleppo on Sept. 23 killed 50 al-Qaeda militants and eight civilians—including three children and a woman—according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Pentagon said the strikes on the Khorasan Group "were undertaken only by US assets," while strikes against ISIS elsewhere in Syria included warplanes from Arab coalition members. (Daily Star, Sept. 23) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reports that ISIS has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since the US air-strikes began. One of Washington's favored rebel factions, Harakat Hazm, part of the Free Syrian Army alliance and a recipient of US missiles, issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the "external intervention"—meaning the US-led bombing campaign—as "an attack on the revolution." The group is demanding "unconditional arming" of the Free Syrian Army as an alternative to the air raids. (LAT, Sept. 23; Haaretz, Sept. 19)
Meanwhile, the Damascus regime has signaled its approval of the strikes. Ali Haidar, Syrian minister for "national reconciliation" (sic), told Reuters: "As for the raids in Syria, I say that what has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government..." He added: "Notification of the Syrian government happened. Confirmation that they would not target Syrian military installations, and confirmation they would not target civilians happened." (Reuters, Sept. 24)
A senior Iranian official also told Reuters that the US informed Iran in advance of its intention to strike ISIS in Syria,m and assured Tehran that it would not target the forces of the Syrian regime. "Iran was concerned about Assad's position and his government being weakened in case of any action against IS in Syria and brought this issue up in meetings with Americans," the Iranian official said. "This issue was first discussed in Geneva and then was discussed thoroughly in New York where Iran was assured that Assad and his government will not be targeted in case of any military action against Daesh [ISIS] in Syria."
Asked about the assurance that Syrian government forces would not be targeted, an unnamed senior US State Department official told Reuters: "We communicated our intentions, but not specific timing or targets, to the Iranians. As we've said, we won't be coordinating military action with Iran. And of course we won't be sharing intelligence with Iran either." (World Bulletin, Turkey, Sept. 24)