Syrian opposition and US accuse Assad of aiding Islamic State

Insurgents rush support to Aleppo and say government is acting as ‘air force for Isis’

Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Aleppo.  Photograph: Mahmoud Hebbo/Reuters

Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Aleppo. Photograph: Mahmoud Hebbo/Reuters

 

Syrian insurgents rushed reinforcements into battle on Tuesday against Islamic State militants who, according to opposition leaders, had seized crucial territory near the northern city of Aleppo in recent days by exploiting Syrian government air strikes against their rebel rivals in the civil war.

Syrian opposition and insurgent leaders expressed increasing frustration that the US-led coalition formed to fight Islamic State, also known as Isis or Isil, had not come to their aid with air strikes, even as government war planes effectively acted, in the words of Khaled Khoja, the president of the main Syrian exile opposition coalition, as “an air force for Isis”.

The Twitter account of the long-closed US embassy in Syria made its strongest statement yet, supporting what president Bashar Assad’s adversaries have long contended: that the government and the Islamic State, while nominally enemies, were collaborating against less extremist rebel groups.

“Reports indicate that the regime is making air strikes in support of #Isil’s advance on #Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population,” the embassy said in a series of Twitter posts, adding in another that government war planes were “not only avoiding #Isil lines, but, actively seeking to bolster their position.”

US officials and Syrian insurgents have yet to present strong evidence proving such a direct co-ordination.

Reap benefits

What is clear is that Assad and the Islamic State both reap benefits by eliminating or weakening other insurgent groups.

Al-Assad can claim he is the only alternative to the Islamic State, and the Islamic State can claim it carries the banner of Syrians and Iraqis oppressed by their governments.

The latest battles took place in areas near Aleppo where the Islamic State had in recent weeks successfully carried out offensives to take territory by attacking rival insurgents when they were weak and under government bombardment.

Islamic State fighters have reached to within several miles of the main highway from Aleppo to the Bab al-Salam border crossing into Turkey.

If it succeeds in cutting off supplies to the rebel-held section of Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside, that could threaten the last major concentration of insurgents not affiliated with either the Islamic State or the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

New York Times