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President Barack Obama on Sunday gave voice to the conundrum at the heart of his Syria policy, acknowledging that the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS militants and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria is helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, a man the United Nations has accused of war crimes.
"I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance," Obama said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." "We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad," whose government has committed "terrible atrocities," Obama said.
"On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL, Khorasan Group — those folks could kill Americans."
ISIL is another name for ISIS, the group that has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria. This week U.S. airstrikes have targeted it and the Khorasan Group, is a cell of militants the U.S. said was plotting attacks in the West, in strikes within Syria. Obama said he wouldn’t order a major U.S. ground presence in either Syria or Iraq.
"We are assisting Iraq in a very real battle that's taking place on their soil, with their troops," the president said. "This is not America against ISIL. This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership."
Only the U.S. could lead such a campaign, Obama said.
"When there's a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who's helping the Philippines deal with that situation," he said. "When there's an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who's leading the charge and making sure Haiti can rebuild. That's how how we roll. And that's what makes this America."
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