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What's Next For Syrian Rebels As Regime Forces Take Aleppo


Ambassador Frederic Hof is a former State Department adviser on Syria. He joined us earlier to talk about what's next for the wider conflict and for the Syrian rebels after the loss in Aleppo.

FREDERIC HOF: We're talking about several thousand people who are united only really in the sense of their opposition to Bashar al-Assad. Most of the rebels who have tried to defend Aleppo and who have apparently failed are nationalist Syrians. There is also a group of al-Qaida fighters known as the Nusra Front and several other names.

SIEGEL: Are these groups that having lost Aleppo might align with the so-called Islamic State elsewhere in Syria, or are they distinct and different and opposed to that group?

HOF: I think that anyone who considers himself a Syrian nationalist - in essence a Syria-firster - would find it very, very, very difficult to sign up with ISIS because ISIS of course believes it has a worldwide mission. And ISIS really has not been engaged in fighting Bashar al-Assad very much in any event.

SIEGEL: You were in government during the Obama administration.

HOF: Yes.

SIEGEL: To what extent is what is unfolding in Syria right now an American responsibility for lack of things the U.S. didn't do?

HOF: You know, this is not an American responsibility. I would say that the failure of the United States to take any steps at all - this has certainly aggravated the problem, and its given the Russians, the Assad regime and Iran the sense that they have a - have an absolutely free ride to do anything they want to civilians.

SIEGEL: Well, there's going to be a new administration taking over in Washington in January.

HOF: Yes.

SIEGEL: Is there an opportunity to change course in Syria because of that?

HOF: There is an opportunity. To the extent President-elect Trump has said anything at all about this issue - he said during the campaign that there was a real opportunity for the United States to support Russia and the Assad regime in their battle against ISIS.

And I presume that the president-elect probably understands that there is no Russian-Assad regime battle against ISIS, that the tactics being used by Russia and Assad against civilian populations are in fact a wonderful recruiting tool, a gift that keeps on giving for ISIS.

SIEGEL: Is there still enough of a nationalist movement for the U.S. or other countries to back, to support?

HOF: Yes, I believe there is. But I think the focal point of our support should be in the area of civilian protection. For the people of Syria, for the West, it's had political consequences as well. There is a straight line, for example, between a vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and a huge migrant crisis affecting Europe, mainly in 2015, most of which came from Syria.

SIEGEL: Which international backer has lost most here - the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar? I mean who's the outside player who's lost (unintelligible)?

HOF: You know, I think, Robert, in terms of external actors who have involved themselves one way or the other in the Syrian crisis, the biggest loser is the United States. The loss in terms of credibility, reputation has been simply enormous.

SIEGEL: Fred Hof, thanks for talking with us today.

HOF: It's been my great pleasure.

SIEGEL: Fred Hof is the director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and is a former special adviser for transition in Syria at the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.