Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said U.S-led air strikes in Syria have made no difference on the ground and described himself as a captain trying to save his ship, in comments to a French magazine and carried by the presidency’s Twitter feed on Wednesday.
Coalition air forces led by the United States began bombing Islamic State militants and other hardline factions in Syria in September. Asked whether this campaign had been helpful to him, Assad, whose forces have fought the same groups, told Paris Match: “You can’t end terrorism with aerial strikes.”
“Troops on the ground that know the land and can react are essential. That is why there haven’t been any tangible results in the two months of strikes led by the coalition,” he added, according to extracts of the interview published on Paris Match’s website in English.
“It isn’t true that the strikes are helpful. They would of course have helped had they been serious and efficient. We are running the ground battles against Daesh, and we have noticed no change, especially with Turkey providing direct support to these regions.”
“Daesh” is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Damascus has regularly accused Turkey of supporting Islamist insurgent groups like Islamic State in Syria. Ankara denies this.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that the strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq had inflicted serious damage but the fight against the offshoot of al Qaeda could take years.
Asked by Paris Match whether he feared the same demise as late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Assad replied: “The captain doesn’t think about death, or life, he thinks about saving his ship.”
“If he thinks about sinking, everyone will die. I am doing my best to save the country,” he said in the interview conducted on Friday in Damascus.
He said his goal had never been to remain president before, during or after the more-than three-year crisis, which the United Nations says has killed around 200,000 people.
“Regardless what happens, we as Syrians will never allow our country to become a toy in Western hands. It is a fundamental principle for us,” Assad said.
He said Damascus was willing to work with any French government or officials if it was in their common interests but that the current administration of Francois Hollande was working against the interest of the Syrian and French people.
“I am neither a personal enemy or rival of Hollande. I think that Daesh is his rival,” Assad said.
The Syrian Presidency tweeted extracts of the interview and said the full version would be published on Thursday.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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