New American strategy for Syria could be doomed as allies of U.S. fight each other

Turkey’s assault against Kurdish militants in Syria has exposed the limitations of the Trump administration’s new Syria policy, calling into question the feasibility of Washington’s plans to maintain a military presence in that country without becoming embroiled in a wider conflict.

The Turkish offensive targeting Afrin, a Kurdish enclave just over Turkey’s border, was launched two days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unveiled a strategy that committed the United States to an apparently open-ended troop presence in the Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria.

This strategy aims to prevent Islamic State militants from returning to areas recently conquered from them, U.S. officials say. But Tillerson articulated a number of other goals for the new policy, including rolling back Iranian influence, defeating al-Qaeda and securing a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

Washington’s focus on providing military support to Syrian Kurds battling the Islamic State, however, has always been rife with contradictions, experts say. These are now coming to the fore as longtime U.S. ally and fellow NATO member Turkey takes on the United States’ biggest Syrian ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

“This highlights the fundamental difficulty of a U.S. strategy that requires maintaining active alliances with two forces which are at war with each other,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group who is on a visit to the Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria. “There has never been an easy answer to that, and there isn’t going to be one.”

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