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Empower Syria’s rebels to defeat ISIL: former spymaster

Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud told a Washington audience that "airstrikes are not enough" and that the Assad regime must be stopped before ISIL can be defeated.
Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief Prince Turki attends the 9th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit in Manama on December 8, 2013. AFP Photo
Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief Prince Turki attends the 9th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit in Manama on December 8, 2013. AFP Photo

WASHINGTON // Saudi Arabia’s ex-spymaster Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud on Tuesday offered a public critique of the US strategy for combating ISIL.

A former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to the US, he reiterated the position of Arabian Gulf states that the group cannot be defeated in Syria unless rebels there are empowered to fight Bashar Al Assad.

“Airstrikes are not enough”, he said, adding that “governments who murder their own people” must be stopped before ISIL can be defeated, part of an effort to end conditions that brings the extremist group recruits and influence.

Relatively moderate Syrian rebels should be armed by the coalition so that they can defend against stepped up attacks by Damascus on their remaining strongholds, and no-fly zones imposed along Syria’s borders, Prince Turki said.

The Syrian political opposition should be allowed to use these zones to set up a government inside Syria and increase their legitimacy as part of a renewed push for a negotiated resolution to the conflict, he added.

The Obama administration has said it is dedicating $500 million to train and equip a few thousand Syrian rebels, using Saudi facilities, over the next year, but that their focus will only be on combating ISIL.

US officials say there are not yet rebels they trust with the discipline and capacity to hold territory that they take from the Assad regime.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar were at the forefront of arming rebels, both Islamist and more moderate in the first years of the Syrian war, and critics have said these policies helped lead to the rise of ISIL. These countries vehemently deny such charges, saying Mr Al Assad abetted their rise, and that they do not support extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda or ISIL.

Those making such accusations, “should either put up, or shut up”, Prince Turki said during remarks at the annual National Council on US-Arab Relations conference.

Prince Turki also warned that Iran continues to destabilise the region by supporting proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Bahrain.

Whatever the outcome of the continuing nuclear negotiations between world powers and Tehran, Riyadh will “also seek to have the same terms in developing our nuclear energy” he said.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Updated: October 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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