US President Donald Trump has ordered increased military operations in Syria and delegated more authority to his generals despite lacking a comprehensive strategy, an approach that may spark a confrontation with Syria, Iran and Russia, according to US officials and analysts.
The United States has taken a series of military actions over the past three months against Syrian government forces and its allies, including the shoot-down of a Syrian jet on Sunday. In April, Trump ordered cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which Washington said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched.
Analysts say these incidents are tactical and not part of any military strategy in Syria. “There isn’t an over-arching US strategy driving this,” said Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. “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.” Russia and Iran are both assisting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fight Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups wreaking havoc in Syria.
The larger problem, the officials and analysts said, is that Trump and his national security team have not advanced a long-term political strategy for Syria’s future. “We have never had a coherent Syrian strategy,” said one US official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We oppose Assad, but our main enemy is ISIS, which also opposes Assad. Our most capable allies are the (Kurdish) peshmerga, but Turkey, who is a NATO ally and host to an airbase that is central to our efforts, considers the Kurds enemies.”
US General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the US is working to restore a communications line with Russia intended to avoid mid-air collisions over Syria, after Moscow cut it off following the US downing of the Syrian military jet on Sunday. The deconfliction arrangement was first established with Russia in 2015 to avoid unnecessary conflict and miscommunication in the military movements of US-led coalition and Russian forces in Syria. The Russian military involvement in Syria began in September 2015 after an official request by the Syrian government for military assistance against terrorist groups.
Different foreign-backed terrorist groups have been wreaking havoc in Syria since 2011. Over the past few months, Syrian forces have made sweeping gains against Takfiri elements, who have lately increased their acts of violence across the country following a series of defeats on the ground.