Syrian Army
Keeping Assad at Arm's Length

Germany's cabinet on Tuesday signed off on deploying 1,200 military personnel to support the fight against IS in Syria. Both Germany and France sought to dispel concerns that they had any intention of cooperating with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to battle the jihadists.

Would France and Germany be willing to rely on the army of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to help in the fight against Islamic State?

Not at all, both countries insisted this week, following ambiguous statements from top government ministers. With Germany about to commit troops to support France in its fight against Islamic State, the two countries are being forced to clarify their position on the Syrian leader and his army.

On Monday, a German defense ministry spokesman reiterated the official government position of “no cooperation with Assad and also no cooperation with troops under Assad,” following ambiguous comments from Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

Ms. von der Leyen had seemed to suggest that the West should train Syrian government forces to fight Islamic State. “There’s no future with Assad, that’s clear,” Ms. von der Leyen told German public television on Sunday. “But there are troop contingents in Syria that one can take, as in the case of Iraq where local forces have been successfully trained.”

On Monday the defense ministry spokesman, Jens Flosdorff, said that the minister’s comments reflected the fact that Berlin wants to avoid the complete collapse of the Syrian state. The debate comes as Germany’s cabinet signed off on the military deployment in a meeting Tuesday morning.

Speaking shortly before Germany’s cabinet approved the deployment of Tornado reconnaissance jets, refueling aircraft, a frigate and up to 1,200 military personnel to the region, Ms. von der Leyen again sought to clarify her position and defended the plans. “The top line is: there will be no cooperation with Assad and no cooperation with troops under his command,” she told ARD television. However, that did not exclude the possibility of including some of the regime’s fighters in the future.  “We must avoid the collapse of the state of Syria,” she said.  “But let me be clear – there will be no future with Assad.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday dismissed the possibility of working with the Syrian army as long as Mr. Assad was in power. “If we achieve a political transition and it’s no longer Bashar in charge of the Syrian army, there could be joint actions against terrorism. But under Bashar it’s not possible,” he said on Monday.

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