The US hopes to push Turkey to greater action against the Syrian regime and Russia in Syria’s northern Idlib province
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
FEBRUARY 12, 2020
US envoy James Jeffrey landed in Turkey on Tuesday, where he commemorated Turkey’s “martyrs” who had been killed by the Syrian regime, and pledged support for Ankara.
Jeffrey and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been seeking to pivot the US back to a Turkey-first foreign policy in regards to Syria, to slowly jettison parts of what they see as the problematic Kurdish region of eastern Syria and engage in big power politics to confront the Russians and Iranians.
The Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib, which began last year and has increased in recent weeks, has led to 700,000 Syrians fleeing toward Turkey and has killed Turkish soldiers. Turkey has sent armored vehicle columns to Idlib to warn the Syrian regime, reinforcing its observation posts that it has maintained there since 2017.
In 2018, Turkey and Russia signed a ceasefire deal for Idlib, which is controlled by the extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, linked to al-Qaeda.
While the Syrian regime sees HTS and Syrian rebel groups as “terrorists,” Turkey backs some of these groups, which it has used to fight Kurds in Afrin and Tel Abyad in 2018 and 2019.
Turkey’s goal since the election of US President Donald Trump was to get the US to abandon Kurdish partners in eastern Syria and pivot back to supporting Syrian rebels and Turkey.