WASHINGTON — The already fragmented battlefield in Syria grew even more complicated on Friday, as Russia and Iran expanded their military efforts to defend the beleaguered Syrian government in defiance of President Obama, who predicted that their actions would only lead to a “quagmire.”
In his first comments since Russia began airstrikes on Syrian targets this week, Mr. Obama said that Moscow was acting “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Bristling at criticism of his own Syria policy, he rejected domestic opponents who offer “half-baked ideas” that amount to “a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”
“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House on Friday, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a longtime ally of both Russia and Iran. “And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”
Neither Russia nor Iran showed signs of listening. While Moscow widened its airstrikes to hit Islamic State territory for the first time, Russian troops have unloaded a major long-range artillery system to add more firepower to its deployment in Syria, according to an American official. At the same time, American officials said Iran had sent as many as 600 additional ground troops to bolster Mr. Assad’s government.

Map | Shifting Areas of Control in Syria

Mr. Obama was left to confront a deteriorating situation over which he seemed to have even less control than before. In New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met separately with the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran without any apparent breakthrough, while American allies from Europe and the Middle East publicly called on Russia to stop bombing the moderate Syrian opposition to Mr. Assad.
The president said that his program to select, train and arm Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, had failed in part because he had insisted they only battle the militants — and not also focus on toppling Mr. Assad’s government. “I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to,” he said. Instead, he said the United …Read More