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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Big News From Syria -- Trump Policy Shift Clear

The news headlines tell us that American/coalition aircraft struck the forces of the Assad regime in southeastern Syria today.  This is highly unusual since such strikes are normally aimed at ISIS.  In the past, there have only been two occasions on which US forces his Assad regime positions.  The first was the Tomahawk missile strike which followed the criminal poison gas attack by Assad on Syrian civilians.  The second was a small strike that was carried out by mistake.  This is the first real strike against Assad's ground forces.

The big question is why this happened.  The Pentagon is quick to point out that the strike does not represent a shift in US policy.  Here's the background.  The area where the strike took place is a "deconfliction zone".  (It makes me wonder who comes up with these names.)  It is an area which is supposed to be free of conflict.  It is also an area that coalition forces use to train Syrian troops for the fight against ISIS.  To be clear, these are Syrian Sunni rebel forces who are not affiliated with any terror group.  These forces are training to take part in the upcoming battle to retake the ISIS capital of Raqqa.  Today, Assad forces moved into the deconfliction zone and began to threaten an attack on these Syrian troops being trained by America.  The Assad forces were warned to leave and even a few warning shots were fired towards them.  The coalition was not about to stand by and let the Assad forces smash our allies in the fight against ISIS.  When the Assad forces refused to pull out of the zone, American air power was called in and the air strike resulted.  We don't yet know the result of that strike.

Today's action illustrates the clear difference between Obama and Trump policies.  Under Obama, the move by Assad forces into the deconfliction zone would not have been met by air power.  The decision how to proceed could only have been made by the White House, and president Obama never authorized strikes against anyone other than ISIS even if the Assad forces were slaughtering our allies.  The move today informs the Assad regime as well as Iran and Russia that when we announce a safe zone (like the deconfliction zone), we are not about to let them ignore that announcement.  It is a position of strength, something that has not come from the USA in the region for the last eight years.

We will have to see how the Assad regime responds.  There will surely be threatening language, but it is highly doubtful that there will be anything else.  Remember, when the US missiles took out a Syrian airbase and 20% of Syria's planes, Assad yelled and threatened but then did nothing.  Assad understands that he could easily be wiped away by America if President Trump had cause to do so.  There's no way Assad would take that chance.

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