Russia, Turkey may move on Syria amid Trump transition
WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials expect Turkey and Russia to expand military operations in Syria over the next two months as President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team takes over and President Barack Obama exits the White House.
The Obama administration has stood back as Turkish forces have pushed deeper into northern Syria and as Russia has escalated airstrikes on eastern Aleppo this week, pummeling the city with cruise missiles and fighter jets launched from its aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.
A shake-up this week among Trump’s national security team has further emboldened Turkey and Russia in Syria, according to a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments.
The official said Ankara and Moscow are taking advantage of confusing dipl omatic signals f rom Trump’s team about future U.S. policy in Syria.
“They will do what they can in the next two months,” said the official. “The expectation is they will put pressure on” to take more territory.
Both countries were “in a wait and see mode” before the election, the official said.
Both apparently see opportunities now that Trump has won. In the past week, Russia and its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, have stepped up their attacks on rebel forces in Aleppo.
After a three-week lull, Assad’s forces spent the last three days dropping munitions on Aleppo’s hospitals, blood banks and other facilities, according to human rights groups, while Russia launched air attacks from the sea.
U.S. intelligence officials expect Russia’s escalation in bombings to continue, James Clapper told lawmakers Thursday .
The Russian airstrikes support Assad’s efforts to defeat the rebels, Clapper said, and allow Assad to resist negotiating an end to a conflict that began in 2011 and has taken over 400,000 lives.
Trump has vowed to extend a hand to Moscow to see if the U.S. and Russia could work together more to resolve the crisis.
Trump spoke via telephone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a conversation the Kremlin said centered on their common resolve to fight “international terrorism and extremism.”
Turkish air and ground forces, joined by Syrian rebel fighters, are near the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, which is 25 miles from the Turkish border. They will try to recapture the city without support from the U.S.-led coalition.
Anthony Cordesman, a former State and Defense department official, said Trump has not offered specifics on his plans for Syria, and the statements he has made were contradictory.
“He needs to define his policies toward Syria early on because other nations, like Russia and Turkey, have clear interests,” he said. “They will continue to push the limits until they are told there are consequences.”
Red Crescent members search for victims Thursday following a reported government airstrike on the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus.