USA/Syria: No airstrikes, please! U.S. government on bombing al-Nusrah (Al Qaeda in Syria). Or protecting “intermingled” Al Qaeda or those “intermingled” with Al Qaeda from bombs. U.S. Department of State, Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, June 3, 2016:
QUESTION: So, Mark —
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: — in keeping with the same —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — area and theme, Foreign Minister Lavrov said today that the United States – and I don’t know if he specifically said it was Secretary Kerry or not – but said the United States has asked Russia not to, in its air operations in Syria, attack al-Nusrah because of the possibility that such strikes could hit either civilians or members of who you call the moderate opposition. Is that correct?
MR TONER: So what – look, yeah, so I’m not —
MR TONER: — going to get into the details of the conversation beyond saying that we conveyed, Secretary conveyed to Russia and the Assad regime the need to carefully distinguish between these terrorist groups operating on the ground and those parties to the COH. And this is something that we’ve – this is a common refrain, a common theme that we’ve been conveying to the Russians over the past weeks.
We obviously all agree that ISIL and the Nusrah front pose a real threat to the security on the ground in Syria, but what also happens is when you’ve got airstrikes that are not just hitting these groups – al-Nusrah – but also hitting opposition groups and also hitting civilian targets, you’re creating only the dynamic that you have more – you’re driving more support into the arms of these terrorist groups. And that’s a dynamic we’ve seen play out in Syria for years now because of the regime’s actions.
QUESTION: So, in fact, yes, you have told the Russians that they should not attack or conduct airstrikes against people – against a group that is specifically —
MR TONER: We have only —
QUESTION: — excluded from the cessation of hostilities?
MR TONER: What we have – what we have stressed is that they need to carefully distinguish between al-Nusrah and the parties of the COH in their attacks.
QUESTION: So you’re okay if they continue to attack al-Nusrah and hit nothing but al-Nusrah? As long as these attacks don’t hit civilians or guys that you like —
MR TONER: But —
QUESTION: — the rebel groups —
MR TONER: Precisely, and that’s a big if. I mean —
QUESTION: — that you like, then it’s okay?
MR TONER: — and we haven’t seen that to date.
QUESTION: You have not? You haven’t seen the Russians attack any – just al-Nusrah?
MR TONER: Well, we haven’t seen the – look, what we’ve seen – and the reason this was raised, again, is that we continue to see attacks that also hit groups affiliated with the cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: Right. I guess —
MR TONER: So to answer your question, of course we support strikes focused solely on either Daesh or al-Nusrah, but that a greater effort, a more complete effort needs to be made in order to distinguish between al-Nusrah and the parties to the COH.
QUESTION: Okay. So it is not, from your perspective, incumbent on the moderate opposition rebels and civilians to get away – to get away from —
MR TONER: There is an element of that. Absolutely, there’s an element of that, and we’ve talked about that as well, yeah, that there —
QUESTION: Or is it impossible, do you think? I mean, is it —
MR TONER: Not —
QUESTION: Like, is it – whose fault do you think it is that they are so close together or, in fact, intermingled? Is it Nusrah, which is glomming themselves on to civilians? Or is it civilians who potentially are glomming themselves onto them because – for potential protection?
MR TONER: I don’t have a granular answer to that question except to say that the reality is that there is intermingling. And we’ve talked about this and that it – this for a while, and we’ve also talked about the fact that it’s incumbent on the U.S. and other governments who have influence on the opposition to convey to them that they do need to disentangle, disconnect themselves from the —
QUESTION: Right. That’s been going on for weeks if not months, and it hasn’t seemed to work yet, so —
MR TONER: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s an ongoing challenge.