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The former American ambassador to Syria argued Sunday that dictators in the Middle East like Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad -- not U.S. policies -- are fueling the refugee crisis in the region.
“You have to deal with the Assad problem. The administration’s focus in Syria, however, is not on the Assad brutality. It is on the Islamic State, and while that is a big problem, it is not going to fix the refugee problem,” Robert Ford told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Do you think our focus is wrong? Our focus should be on regime change with Assad first, then focus on ISIS?” Todd asked.
“I absolutely do because the Assad regime’s brutality is driving recruitment into the Islamic State,” Ford replied.
Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, cited an analysis from U.S. intelligence agencies that ISIS is replacing its ranks as fast at the U.S. takes them out.
“And why is that? It’s because they’re able to recruit from angry, young Syrian men who are furious at the bombing that the Assad regime is inflicting on Syrian neighborhoods in Syrian regimes,” Ford said.
Assad and his allied forces have been at civil war with rebel fighters since violence erupted in 2011, with estimates of over 300,000 dead. Meanwhile, about 4.1 million Syrian refugees have fled to other parts of the globe and 6.5 million Syrians are displaced within their own country.
An American-led coalition continues to bomb ISIS-held areas in Syria and support moderate opposition fighters on the ground. Ford called for the Obama administration to support groups that are fighting both Assad and the Islamic State in the region.
“Those are the people who ultimately are going to have to come to a negotiation with Assad and come up with a new national unity government,” he said. “We can't get there until Assad and his friends feel enough pressure that they will negotiate seriously."