The Trump administration won’t be cooperating with Russia against the Islamic State in Syria, despite the president’s earlier interest in exploring the possibility.
Trump expressed interest in working with Russia to defeat ISIS in Syria during his campaign, however, that option is reportedly no longer under consideration, according to multiple officials who spoke to the U.S News and World Report.
Then-candidate Trump argued that the U.S. should allow Russia to take over anti-ISIS operations in Syria while speaking at a rally in September. At the time, the Russian military had a large presence in Syria, working hand-in-hand with the Syrian government. Trump’s interest in working with Russia received backlash from Democrats and some Republicans, given reports that Russian air strikes were mostly targeting Syrian rebels and civilians.
Trump also expressed interest in smoothing relations with Russia, which have been at their worst since the Cold War in recent years. Cooperation with Russia in Syria would ostensibly be a step towards that goal.
“You have Russia that’s now there. Russia’s on the side of Assad, and Russia wants to get rid of ISIS as much as we do, if not more, because they don’t want them coming into Russia,” Trump told CNN’s Erin Burnett in an interview in September. “And I’m saying, ‘Why are we knocking ISIS and yet at the same time we’re against Assad? Let them fight, take over the remnants. But more importantly, let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight them … in Syria.'”
While it is unclear what changed the administration’s mind regarding cooperating with Russia, there are many key voices in the cabinet who do not share Trump’s view on a revitalized relationship. Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned Russia is a major threat to the U.S. national security during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Trump’s new national security advisor Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is also a known Russia skeptic, and spent several years in his last posting overseeing a program on ways to counter Russia’s military.
Instead of working with Russia in Syria, the Trump administration has taken a more direct role against ISIS in the broken country, recently sending a contingent of U.S. Marines to help provide fire support for allied forces fighting the terrorist group. The move marked a major change in policy, as the U.S. previously only had special forces operating in the country beforehand.
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