Debate fact check: Is Assad fighting Daesh in Syria?

Published October 10th, 2016 - 11:53 GMT
Donald Trump’s claim flounders under scrutiny (AFP/File)
Donald Trump’s claim flounders under scrutiny (AFP/File)

The current US presidential elections are related to several different regions of foreign policy. But the territory the debate feels most comfortable in is a strange land of ambiguity, where fact and fiction mingle and truth is a rare commodity.

During last night’s debate, this was as clear as ever. "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS,” Donald Trump told the crowd. “Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS and those three have lined up because of our weak foreign policy."

The statement was controversial at the least. Many Twitter commenters pointed out that Assad and his Russian allies have been focusing bombing on other rebel groups than Daesh (ISIS) – not to mention hitting a significant number of civilian targets too.

In response to widespread condemnation of the claim’s veracity, however, pro-regime supporters were quick to defend Trump, pointing out that Assad and his allies have been engaged in campaigns against Daesh.

So what’s the truth here? It’s somewhere in between – but definitely falls against Trump’s argument.

It’s true that Assad has carried out actions against Daesh. The Syrian army liberated Palmyra from Daesh in March – though leaked documents suggest Daesh struck a deal with the regime to withdraw their fighters – before engaging Daesh fighters in surrounding towns like Deir Ezzor.

But the vast majority of fighting conducted by regime forces and allies has been against opposition targets other than the Islamic state – 90% of Russian airstrikes according to 2015 State Department estimates – and that’s included civilian targets.

According to Robert Burns, the Associated Press security writer, the claim is not true. Assad’s military” is focused on combatting Syrian opposition groups,” he told McClatchy. “It is focused on combatting Syrian opposition groups,” he said. “The fight against the Islamic State militants is being waged by a U.S.-led coalition”.


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