- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Obama administration sought Tuesday to downplay perceptions that its bombing campaign against Islamic extremists inside Syria signal any new alignment between Washington and embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a statement Tuesday morning. “We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give any indication of our timing on specific targets.”

Ms. Psaki’s comments came after the Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement Tuesday asserting that Washington had informed the Assad government of its plan to strike Islamic State positions in Syria.

While Syrian officials offered no support for international attacks on Islamic State targets inside Syria, according to a report by Iran’s government-owned Fars News Service, the officials also claimed that Secretary of State John F. Kerry had sent a letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem alerting him of the impending U.S.-led bombing campaign.

Ms. Psaki pushed back against the claim in her own statement Tuesday, asserting that “Secretary Kerry did not send a letter to the Syrian regime.”

Meanwhile, a U.S.-led coalition including Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates conducted airstrikes Monday night against 14 separate Islamic State targets inside Syria. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that U.S. forces had also taken exclusive action against a separate al Qaeda-aligned outfit inside Syria known as the Khorasan Group.

From a broad geopolitical standpoint, the U.S.-led strikes may be seen to aid Syrian military forces, which have spent the past three years in a violent civil war against a variety of groups, including Islamic extremists.

While the civil war began with Mr. Assad unleashing his military to crush an Arab Spring-style pro-democracy movement, the authoritarian Syrian president has long claimed that the true focus of his military’s operations where to contain surging terrorists in Syria.

But the Syrian military has also unleashed violent attacks on civilian targets. With those attacks as a backdrop, the Obama administration has spent recent years calling for Mr. Assad’s ouster.

On Tuesday, Ms. Psaki appeared eager to emphasize that the administration’s position toward the Assad regime remains unchanged despite the new U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria.

She also pushed to clarify exactly what communications the Obama administration had with the Assad regime leading up to Monday nights bombing campaign.

“The president made clear in his speech to the nation on September 10 that the United States would not hesitate to take direct action against ISIL and terrorists inside Syria who were threatening the United States,” she said in the statement circulated to reporters. “Since that speech, we informed the Syrian regime directly of our intent to take action through our Ambassador to the United Nations [Samantha Power] to the Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations.”

“We warned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft,” Ms. Psaki added. “We did not request the regime’s permission.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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