By Keeping US Focus on Islamic State, Trump Risks Wider Syria War
President Donald Trump has ordered stepped-up military operations against the Islamic State and delegated more authority to his generals, but without a comprehensive Syria strategy, his approach risks further confrontation with Syria, Iran and even Russia, according to US officials and analysts.
While the US military's shoot-down of a Syrian jet on Sunday was a rarity in modern warfare, the first in 18 years, it was not an isolated incident.
Tactical Airstrikes Not Part of Any US-Strategy in Syria
In April, Trump ordered cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airfield, from which Washington said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched. Since then, the United States has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia, and last week even shot down a drone threatening US-led coalition forces.
These incidents, however, are tactical, and not part of any US strategy in Syria, analysts claimed. Both the administration of former President Barack Obama and Trump have focused exclusively on defeating the ISIS, but with the militants' self-proclaimed caliphate shrinking, US-backed and Syrian-backed forces appear to be competing for territory.
No Long-Term Political Strategy for Syria
There isn’t an over-arching US strategy driving this. This is just the result of tactical decisions by a commander on the ground whose only focus is a specific theater in Syria. He is acting to protect his assets ... This is purely a series of tactical decisions that are creating a series of very serious strategic consequences.Charles Lister, Middle East Institute
Like Obama, Trump has focused on Islamic State, leaving for later the question of Assad’s fate and the region’s mangled alliances. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one US official said:
De-Escalation of Conflict and Defeating ISIS
Jennifer Cafarella, of the Institute for the Study of War, said the US strikes are unlikely to deter Assad and his backers. Cafarella said:
A White House spokesman did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment. A senior White House official said:
Trump Aides Split Over Iran
Moscow said it would treat US-led coalition aircraft flying west of the River Euphrates in Syria as potential targets and track them with missile systems and military aircraft. It stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.
The White House said on Monday that coalition forces fighting Islamic State militants in Syria would retain the right to self-defence, and said the United States would work to keep lines of communication open with Russia.
Iran's Missile Strike an Illustration of Tehran's Regional Ambitions
US intelligence analysts quickly concluded that Iran fired the missiles mostly in retaliation for a pair of Islamic State attacks earlier this month on Iran's parliament building and the tomb of the Islamic Republic's founder.
As it tries to craft a Syria strategy, the Trump administration is divided between those who consider Islamic State the primary enemy and some officials who think the war in Syria is part of an existential struggle between the United States and its Gulf allies on the one hand and Iran on the other, said a third US official, who has participated in government deliberations on Syria.
These Iran hawks, they said, are pushing for a Syria strategy that calls for concentrating first on defeating Islamic State, then turning on Iran and its allies, including Assad, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Iraq's Shi'ite militias, and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
(This admission season, The Quint got experts from CollegeDekho.com on board to answer all your college-related queries. Send us your questions at email@example.com)