The White House categorically denied a report saying it was sharing information with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the extremist group the Islamic State (also ISIS or ISIL) on Tuesday. Furthermore, the White House said it had no plans to coordinate whatsoever with the Syrian government in the ongoing fight against the group.
The AFP reported on Tuesday that the U.S. was “sharing intelligence about jihadist deployments with Damascus through Iraqi and Russian channels.” AFP’s report came just as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that the U.S. does not recognise the Assad regime and had “no plans” to coordinate with them in regards to any campaign against ISIS.
“As a matter of US policy, we have not recognised” Assad as the leader in Syria, Earnest said, according to a transcript. “There are no plans to change that policy and there are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime.”
When asked if Earnest’s comments also represented a denial of the AFP report, White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said it did.
President Barack Obama has reportedly given the go-ahead for the U.S. military to begin surveillance flights in Syria to gather intelligence on ISIS. The intelligence-gathering could be a prelude for potential strikes on the group in Syria. The U.S. has already launched airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and multiple administration and military officials have publicly suggested any campaign to confront the group would need to be expanded into Syria.
Earnest said Obama has not made a decision about whether to strike ISIS in Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Monday the country was open to working with the international community against ISIS, however, he said the Syrian government would need to be notified. Some observers and analysts have accused Assad of facilitating ISIS’ rise during the three-plus-year civil war in Syria, using their rapid gains as a ploy to present himself as the better of two options.
On Tuesday, Earnest said the situation was different today than one year ago, when the Obama administration pushed Congress to approve targeted strikes on Assad regime targets.
“The goal of the mission from last year was aimed squarely at the Assad regime. … The situation a year later is markedly different,” Earnest said.
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