Mohamad Bazzi writes: Since Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime and its allies forced out the last rebels from eastern Aleppo and regained full control over Syria’s largest city, the six-year-old Syrian civil war has now entered a new phase. The next major battle will be to drive out the Islamic State group from the city of Raqqa, but that fight is far more dependent on the United States than Assad and his allies.
Donald Trump wants to stay out of Syria’s complicated war. But as soon as he’s inaugurated on Jan. 20, the new American president will face a crucial decision: Will he continue the Pentagon’s support and training for a coalition of Syrian rebel groups leading the offensive to oust ISIS from Raqqa, the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate?
That campaign began Nov. 6 with a mobilization of some 30,000 rebels to encircle Raqqa and cut it off from all sides and deny ISIS the ability to resupply with weapons and fighters. The battle to push the Islamic State out of Raqqa could take months. If it falters under a fledging Trump administration, ISIS would continue to have a safe base from which it would unleash new terror attacks in Syria and Iraq, and inspire and possibly direct operations around the world.
After the fall of eastern Aleppo, there are signs of an emerging division of labor in Syria between the incoming Trump administration and that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia would continue its intensive air strikes and logistical aid to help Assad recapture territory from rebels, while Washington would take the lead in the fight against ISIS. On Dec. 10, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would send 200 additional special forces to Syria — for a total of 500 US troops on the ground — to help train and advise Syrian opposition groups who are fighting ISIS, especially around Raqqa. [Continue reading…]
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) December 30, 2016