(DAMASCUS, Syria) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave his strongest indication yet Wednesday that he is prepared to continue his government’s 18-month battle against forces opposed to his regime until one gives up the fight.
An estimated 21,000 to 23,000 people have died during the conflict that began as peaceful pro-reform demonstrations in March 2011. Al-Assad has said publicly throughout the civil war that “foreign terrorists” are behind the mission to remove him from power.
In his most extensive interview yet about the conflict on state-run TV, the Syrian leader admitted that it would take more “time” for his forces to ultimately crush the rebellion that has spread throughout major cities, including Damascus and Aleppo.
This might have been a tacit admission that opposition forces have presented a far greater challenge to his regime than he had at first anticipated, but al-Assad expressed optimism that “We are moving forward. The situation, practically, is better.”
That might only be the opinion of one man since a media blackout throughout Syria has made it difficult to ascertain which side is actually winning in addition to the actual death toll, which has been compiled by activists opposed to al-Assad.
Discussing other war-related topics, al-Assad laughed off rumors that he had gone deep into hiding since a bomb attack last month killed four members of his inner circle, including his brother-in-law, at a supposedly secure facility in Damascus.
He also downplayed the constant stream of defectors from the Syrian government and military, claiming that “patriotic, good people” remain on his side.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN