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A Showdown in Syria Underscores the Need for a More Active U.S. Role

Jan. 12 2018

In November, Russian, Syrian, and Iranian forces launched an offensive to drive al-Qaeda from its stronghold in northwestern Syria, thus violating the September agreement among Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara establishing a “de-escalation zone” in the area. Turkey has now inserted troops into this area, and seems to be giving support to al-Qaeda and other groups fighting alongside it. Just yesterday, after an apparently successful advance by pro-Assad forces, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russia to halt its operations. Jennifer Cafarella, Elizabeth Teoman, and Matti Suomenaro explain what is at stake for the U.S.:

Erdogan is leveraging European and American fears over a renewed migrant flow out of northwestern Syria in order to rally support for pressuring Russia and Iran to halt their offensive. The pro-regime operation has reportedly already displaced up to 100,000 Syrians. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, stated that Turkey raised this issue with the U.S., France, Germany, and the UK in addition to Russia and Iran on January 10th. . . .

A pro-regime campaign to seize [northwestern Syria] is not in America’s interest. The extension of Assad’s control produces a corollary extension of Iran’s military footprint and leverage in Syria. This outcome directly contradicts the Trump administration’s stated Iran policy. Assad and his external backers, moreover, remain the primary drivers of radicalization in Syria. Their operations drive support for al-Qaeda and will likely trigger a widening escalation of the war in western Syria. Al-Qaeda retains significant combat power . . . and will launch a counter-offensive.

Neither Turkey nor Russia can deliver an outcome in Syria that supports U.S. interests. The U.S. should help Turkey block pro-regime operations that will cause further humanitarian catastrophe, but must refrain from accepting either Russia’s diplomatic play or Turkey’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Washington must instead retain freedom of action and avoid the temptation to outsource American national-security requirements to regional actors already at war in Syria.

Read more at Institute for the Study of War

More about: Al Qaeda, Iran, Russia, Syrian civil war, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy

What U.S. Success in Syria Should Look Like

April 26 2018

Surveying the history of the Syrian civil war, Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explain that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule and vicious tactics have led to the presence in his country of both Shiite terrorists, led by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Russia, and Sunni jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Any American strategy, they argue, must bear this in mind:

The best option is a Syria without Assad, committed to a future without Iranian or Russian influence. This is not a Pollyanna-like prescription; there are substantial obstacles in the way, not least those we have encountered in Iraq. . . . [But] only such a Syria can guarantee an end to Iranian interference, to the transshipment of weapons for Hizballah, and to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of the kind we saw used at Douma. (Iran has been instrumental in Syria’s chemical-weapons program for many years.) And, most importantly, only such a Syria can disenfranchise the al-Qaeda and IS affiliates that have found a foothold by exploiting the Syrian people’s desperation.

How do we get there? The United States must first consolidate and strengthen its position in eastern Syria from the Euphrates river to the eastern Syrian border. This involves clearing out the remnants of Islamic State, some several thousand, and ultimately eliminating pockets controlled by the Assad regime and Iranian forces in northeastern Syria. This would enable the creation of a control zone in the eastern part of the country as a base from which to build a credible and capable partner that is not subordinate to the Kurdish chain of command, while effectively shutting down Iran’s strategic land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. A regional Arab force, reportedly suggested by President Trump’s new national-security adviser, would be a welcome addition. But we should seriously doubt [the Arabs] will participate without American ground leadership and air support.

In western Syria, the United States should rebuild a Syrian opposition force with advisers, weapons, and air power while upping the pressure on Assad and his cronies to select a pathway to a negotiated peace. Pursuing a settlement in Geneva without such leverage over the Assad regime is pure fantasy. Finally, the United States and other Western powers must impede Iran’s and Russia’s ability to be resupplied. Syria’s airfields must be destroyed, and Syria’s airspace must remain clear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Hizballah, Iran, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy