Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared to suggest in an interview Tuesday that his government is being informed about the U.S.-Led coalition’s bombing campaign against the Islamic State.
In comments to the BBC, Assad said third parties, including Iraq, were conveying information about the airstrikes against the jihadist group, but that there was no direct coordination with the USA and its allies.
“They don’t talk to us, we don’t talk to them,” Assad told BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen during an interview in Damascus. “Sometimes they (third parties) convey message, general message, but there’s nothing tactical.”.
The admission does not indicate Washington is prepared in some form to soften its stance over coordinating with Damascus on airstrikes against the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL. The Pentagon has repeatedly said it is not coordinating with the Assad regime.
“We are not coordinating our actions with the Syrian government and will not do so,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Tuesday. “We have warned Syria not to engage U.S. Aircraft. We have not provided advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or given any indication of our timing on specific targets. We would not work with an Assad government that has precipitated the environment that ISIL has taken advantage of,” he said.
The U.S.-Led coalition, which includes the Arab countries Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, shares the skies with Assad’s air force, which also targets Islamic State militants. But Assad is also entangled in a separate conflict closer to home.
At least 100,000 people — activists claim tens of thousands more — have been killed in fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels that began with a peaceful uprising in March 2011 against his rule. That fighting has forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes.
However, the international spotlight has dramatically shifted away from Syria’s internal fight as the Islamic State has risen to prominence in recent months with a series of brutal killings of foreign journalists and other captives.
During the interview, Assad also denied Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas in Syria.
“We have bombs, missiles and bullets. … There (are) no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels,” he told the broadcaster.
Barrel bombs are usually oil drums stuffed with explosives and chunks of metal. The United Nations has passed a declaration barring their use.
“I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots,” Assad said in the interview.
Meanwhile, a squadron of United Arab Emirates F-16 fighters stationed in Jordan launched a series of airstrikes on Islamic State targets Tuesday morning, the UAE said. The Emirates had halted airstrikes in December after a Jordanian pilot was captured by the militant group. The pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, was later burned alive by militants.
Contributing: Associated Press.