Cooperation with Russia becomes central to Trump strategy in Syria

Cooperation with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-Islamic State strategy in Syria, with U.S. military planners counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against the militants.

Syria’s once-separate conflicts have moved into close proximity on the battlefield. Part of the plan essentially carves up Syria into no-go zones for each of the players — President Bashar al-Assad’s fight, with Russian and Iranian help, against rebels seeking to overthrow him, and the U.S.-led coalition’s war to destroy the Islamic State.

Some lawmakers and White House officials have expressed concern that the strategy is shortsighted, gives the long-term advantage in Syria to Russia, Iran and Assad, and ultimately leaves the door open for a vanquished Islamic State to reestablish itself.

Critics also say that neither Russia nor Iran can be trusted to adhere to any deal, and that the result will be a continuation of the civil war whose negotiated end the administration has also set as a goal.

U.S.-Russia negotiations are continuing even as Congress moves this week toward imposing additional sanctions on Russia and Iran. Elements of the strategy were presented in members-only briefings last week to the House and the Senate by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

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