US seeks Syria detente with Russia
CO-OPERATION with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-Islamic State (IS) strategy in Syria.
US military planners are counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against IS.
Syria’s once-separate conflicts have moved into close proximity on the battlefield. Part of the plan essentially carves up Syria into no-go zones for each of the players – President Bashar al-Assad’s fight, with Russian and Iranian help, against rebels seeking to overthrow him, and the US-led coalition’s war to destroy IS.
Some lawmakers and White House officials have expressed concern that the strategy is shortsighted, gives the long-term advantage in Syria to Russia, Iran and Assad, and ultimately leaves the door open for a vanquished IS to re-establish itself.
Critics also claim that Russia and Iran may not adhere to any deal, and that the result would be a continuation of the civil war whose negotiated end the administration has also set as a goal.
US-Russia negotiations are continuing even as Congress moves this week toward imposing additional sanctions on Russia and Iran. Elements of the strategy were presented in members-only briefings last week to the House and the Senate by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The administration has made no secret of what it has called its “IS first” strategy, setting the defeat of the militants as its top priority, after which other elements of Syria’s longterm stability are to be addressed.
US President Donald Trump turned over to the military decisions on how to prosecute the war against the IS. The result has been rapid gains against militant strongholds, and increased co-operation with Moscow to keep the civil war between Assad and rebels out of the way.
According to lines drawn on a map of the conflict, the US and its proxies would concede Assad’s control of most of central and southern Syria west of the Euphrates River, with a few agreed deviations, said US officials. Once Raqqa is retaken, US-backed forces would move downriver to control the militant-populated villages alongside it, to the Iraqi border. Washington Post