Al-Qaida Role in Syria Should Not be Exaggerated, Official Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2012 While there may be some extremists among the Syrian rebels, al-Qaida is not establishing a strong footprint in the country, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Al-Qaida in Iraq has taken credit for a number of attacks in neighboring Syria, as well as in Iraq itself.
“We condemn AQI-related attacks in the strongest possible terms,” Little said during a Pentagon news conference. “We understand that they're a presence. We have expressed, and I will reiterate today, our belief that the Iraqi government and security forces can address the challenges posed by AQI.”
The United States is working closely with the Iraqis and other governments in the region to disrupt, defeat and dismantle al-Qaida, Little said. The United States will continue to go after the terror group wherever it may try to operate.
There may be al-Qaida operatives in Syria, Little said, “but no one should think … that AQI has a significant, major or particularly strong footprint in Syria,” he said. “I can't eliminate the possibility that some elements of AQI might be there, but I wouldn't want anyone to overstate the concern about AQI in Syria.”
Little emphasized that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad must leave power so that Syrians can determine their own way forward.
“The goal at the end of the day for the Syrian people … should be to define for themselves a path for the future,” he said. “It’s really not for us to define that path for them, and I can't speculate as to what kind of government may come next. The important thing at the moment is for Bashar Assad to go.”
Little called the Syrian dictator “a destructive force” responsible for the murders of thousands of his countrymen.
“We’re not looking at this all in isolation,” he said. “We understand that we have to look toward the future and toward a political transition. We’re not blind to the fact that we need to look toward that future, and we hope it's a future that’s much brighter than what we’re seeing today.”