Obama threatens to hit Assad air defenses: report
President Barack Obama told visitors to the White House last week he would not hesitate to retaliate against Syrian government forces should they open fire on U.S. aircraft targeting militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the New York Times reported.
Obama made the comments before his televised address last week in which he announced an escalated campaign against ISIS, the newspaper said in a report Saturday.
The newspaper said the account of Obama’s thinking was based on interviews with 10 people who spoke with him in the days leading up to his speech late Wednesday. The paper said that in quoting his private remarks, those interviewed were recalling what he said from their best memories.
The paper said according to one account, the U.S. president said he had contemplated the possibility of Assad ordering his forces to fire at U.S. warplanes entering Syrian airspace. Obama warned that if Assad dared to do so, he would order U.S. forces to “wipe out” Syria’s air defenses, according to the account.
The president went on to say that an action of that kind by Assad would lead to the Syrian leader’s overthrow, the paper added.
Damascus has been pressing an air campaign against ISIS in areas under its control in Syria as the United States seeks to forge a coalition against the militants.
In an interview with CNN over the weekend, Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban warned against any “act of aggression” by the U.S. against Syria, while voicing readiness to work with Washington to combat ISIS.
“We are ready to be part of any coalition against terrorism, and any strike on Syria without coordination with the Syrian government is considered an aggression against Syria,” she said.
Western states have ruled out the idea of cooperating with Assad in the fight against ISIS.
Obama has repeatedly called on Assad to step down and, along with Western states, is backing Syrian opposition forces on the ground. The president, however, has resisted any direct military intervention to end the more than three-year-old crisis there.
According to the Times report, Obama foresaw the conflict as a long-term battle.
“This will be a problem for the next president,” he said ruefully, according to the report said, “and probably the one after that.”