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The United States will discontinue its efforts to create a new, moderate rebel fighting force in Syria as part of the effort to "degrade and defeat" the Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday. Most analysts believe that this reflects a failure of the US's current strategy in the region. That strategy---which focused on training new fighters---drew widespread criticism, particularly from Congress. In a statement to the media, Defense Secretary Ash Carter defended the change in policy by emphasizing the Administration's continued commitment to relying on local forces to get the job done, saying, "I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated, and capable ground forces. I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL." During a brief press conference, Carter cited the work that US forces have done with rebels in northern Syria as an example of what they would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward:

Today before the United Nations General Assembly, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin sparred publicly over how their respective nations have approached a solution to crises in Ukraine and Syria. For both leaders, these speeches were an opportunity to regain control of a spiraling military, security, and human rights narrative that is now being influenced not only by the spread of Islamic terrorism, but the effects of mass migration out of the Middle East and Africa and into Europe. President Obama lashed out at Putin over Russia's aggression toward Ukraine and criticized Putin's leadership (or, lack thereof) on the Syrian crisis. Oddly enough, though, Obama somehow managed leave himself space to justify a partnership with Russia as a way of addressing conflict in Syria. From the New York Times:
Mr. Obama made a forceful defense of diplomacy but also castigated Russia by name multiple times in his speech for its defense of the Syrian government, its takeover of Crimea and its actions supporting Ukrainian rebels. “Dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world,” Mr. Obama said. Those currents include major powers that want to ignore international rules and impose order through force of military power, he said.

Russia has been an important ally of Syria's during the Assad regime's four year struggle to maintain its hold on power. Moscow recently strengthened its support for the flailing Syrian military, and on Wednesday, Russian media broadcast a roundtable-style interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in which Assad placed the blame for the current European migrant crisis on Western intervention in Syria. Via WaPo:
“If you are worried about them, stop supporting terrorists,” said Assad, referring to Europe-bound Syrians. “This is the core of the whole issue of refugees.” He described U.S. and European criticism of his policies as “propaganda” that will create “more refugees.” ... Assad said that a solution to the conflict could not be found until “terrorism” is defeated. He called on Syrians to “unite” against terror, portraying his government as bulwark against groups like the Islamic State, which a U.S.-led coalition is attacking at its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The coalition does not attack Syrian government assets. U.S. officials do not coordinate those attacks with Assad’s forces.
You can watch the full interview with Russian media here:

Earlier this month we took a look back at the 2013 sarin gas attacks in Syria. No one has ever been held accountable for those attacks, and now new allegations have surfaced of chemical weapons use against civilians in Syria. At least one diplomat stationed in Syria is saying that the situation there has become "unacceptable," and that he (or she---the diplomat spoke under conditions of anonymity) has seen evidence of chlorine gas attacks. Fox News explains in detail:
Civilians, including children, allegedly have been injured and killed in the latest attacks. In a letter sent this week to the U.N. Security Council from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the group cited reports of chlorine gas attacks in the Idlib and Hama areas and urged the creation of a no-fly zone to protect the Syrian people. "In the past two weeks alone, witnesses and medics on the ground in Idlib and Hama governorates reported at least nine separate instances of toxic chemical attacks -- several of them deadly," the group wrote. "... in each instance, barrel bombs loaded with poisonous chemical substances were deployed from Syrian regime helicopters."
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