CIA Director John Brennan says the United States cannot afford to allow ISIL terrorists to “march into” the Syrian capital Damascus, adding that Washington is no longer seeking a “regime change” in the Arab country.
Speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on Friday, the head of the top US spy agency said Washington does not want a collapse of the Syrian government since it could put ISIL and other extremists in power.
Brennan said that "extremist elements" including ISIL and al-Qaeda terrorists are "ascendant right now" in some parts of Syria. "The last thing we want to do is allow them to march into Damascus."
"I think that's a legitimate concern," Brennan said.
"None of us, Russia, the United States, coalition, and regional states, wants to see a collapse of the government and political institutions in Damascus,” he added.
His remarks are in contrast with the comments made by US Secretary of State John Kerry last week in Saudi Arabia where he said that military pressure might be necessary to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“He's lost any semblance of legitimacy, but we have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating Daesh (ISIL) and other terror networks", Kerry said on March 5.
“Ultimately a combination of diplomacy and pressure will be needed to bring about a political transition. Military pressure particularly may be necessary given President Assad's reluctance to negotiate seriously," he added.
The United States and its regional allies - especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey - are supporting the militants operating inside the country.
According to the United Nations, more than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the turmoil that has gripped Syria for nearly four years.
The ISIL terrorists -- some of whom were amongst militants initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government -- now control large parts of Syria and Iraq.
On February 19, Washington and Ankara inked an agreement to train and arm what they call moderate militants in Syria.
The Pentagon said it was planning to deploy hundreds of special forces to the Middle East to train “moderate” militants outside Syria in March.
The two sides say the militants will fight both the Syrian government and ISIL Takfiri terrorists.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said last month that Ankara hopes the deal will also strengthen the beleaguered insurgents fighting against the government of Assad.