Syrian President Bashar Assad warned in comments broadcast on Thursday (Friday NZ Time) that he would wage war to expel US troops from northeastern Syria if dialogue fails to bring the area back under government control.
It was not the first time that Assad has threatened to attack US troops, but it was his most explicit expression yet of his determination to rid Syria of American forces.
In an interview with Russia Today, Russia’s state-owned international broadcaster, Assad said the United States should heed the lessons of Iraq and get out of Syria before they are forced to leave.
The Syrian government is already involved in negotiations with local factions to bring the area back under its control, he said. If the dialogue fails, he said, “we are going to resort to liberating the area by force, with the Americans or without the Americans.”
“The Americans should leave somehow. They are going to leave,” Assad added.
The comments came as the Syrian leader is in the process of asserting his authority over the last few pockets of opposition-held territory after a seven-year-old war in which vast areas of the country slipped out of government control.
Northeastern Syria, where Syrian Kurds have declared a self-governing autonomous region, is the biggest territory still outside the remit of the government. The United States maintains about 2000 troops there, helping the local Kurdish-led militia battle the Islamic State militant group. In the process, they have assumed de facto control over a vast area of mostly desert terrain amounting to nearly a third of Syrian territory.
US President Donald Trump has said that he is keen to pull the troops out as soon as possible, but the US military has persuaded him to allow them to remain at least until a last pocket of Islamic State fighters is vanquished along the Syrian-Iraqi border.