Doubts Greet Kerry's Claim That Syrian Rebels Will Fight ISIS Instead of Assad

PHOTO: Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2014.J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2014.

Secretary of State John Kerry said today the Obama administration believes that moderate Syrian rebels that the U.S. plans to train and equip will stop fighting the Assad regime and instead make defeating ISIS their priority, a strategy that one skeptic said was "unrealistic."

Kerry suggested ISIS, which also goes by the acronym ISIL and Islamic State, was a bigger threat to the moderate rebels than the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, despite the fact that the fact that the rebels and Assad's forces have been locked in brutal combat for the past three years.

“Our belief, therefore, is that as the principal antagonist to their presence -- more so than Assad in some ways -- starts to take hits and [the rebels] gain greater strength, greater training, greater equipment, greater capacity, the success will bring to them, we think, larger structure as well as greater know-how and ability," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“And if ISIL is defeated, they’re going to be taking that experience in the same direction that they originally set out to, which is to deal with Assad,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed incredulity that the administration would insist on Syria’s rebels taking on one adversary and ignoring the other.

“You cannot ask people to go and fight and die unless you've promised them that you will defeat their enemy, and defeat them right away. You can't say wait until we defeat ISIL,” he said.

Robert Ford, the United States’ former ambassador to Syria who testified after Kerry at the same hearing, said it was unlikely that moderate rebels would switch targets.

“Absolutely,” Ford said when asked whether the Syrian opposition would continue to fight Assad. “The idea that they would turn away… is simply unrealistic.”