After Raqqa, Trump says US shifts to ‘new phase’ in Syria

In this Oct. 17, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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After Raqqa, Trump says US shifts to ‘new phase’ in Syria

STERLING, Virginia: President Donald Trump is portraying the Daesh group’s ouster from its Syrian stronghold as a milestone in the US fight against terrorism and a step toward a political transition and lasting peace in Syria.
That assessment, in a statement released Saturday, runs counter to warnings in recent days from his national security aides that the militants remain fully capable of striking American interests. And there are no signs of an impending political transition, with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government newly strengthened.
Kurdish-led forces on Friday declared victory in Raqqa, the extremists’ self-declared capital, where they had terrorized the population for four years.
Trump called it “a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat Daesh and its wicked ideology” and said “the end of the Daesh caliphate is in sight.”
He cited his efforts to empower US military forces on the ground, and repeated his claim that more had been done to defeat the group in recent months “than in the past several years.”
The US “will soon transition into a new phase” in Syria, Trump said, and offer support to local security forces. He said the US will back diplomatic negotiations to end the violence, allow refugees to return safely home, and “yield a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people.”
There is no indication, however, that a political transition will come any time soon.
UN-led talks have shown no serious signs of picking up steam. The ouster of IS forces from Raqqa and other parts of Syria has overlapped with the increased influence of Iran and Russia in the country and a stronger hand for Assad, dimming prospects even further for the type of political solution the US has long wanted to see.
Most Raqqa residents fled long ago and are now scattered across refugee camps or abroad, and there is little for them to return to. The once vibrant metropolis on the Euphrates River has largely been reduced to rubble and is littered with land mines and booby traps.
So far, the Trump administration has shown little appetite for longer-term engagement or involvement in nation-building in Iraq and Syria. While it will work to clear Raqqa of mines and restore basic services like water and electricity, Washington has made it evidence that it has no intention of playing the leading role in rebuilding the city.
National security officials, including CIA director Mike Pompeo, have warned that just because IS has been evicted from Raqqa, it doesn’t mean the group won’t be able to carry out attacks against the United State.
The US military this past week estimated that 6,500 IS fighters remain in eastern Syria and western Iraq, many concentrated along the Euphrates River valley straddling the border. Those fighters pose an insurgent threat in both countries and an ideological threat globally.


UN Syria envoy to step down next month

Updated 17 October 2018
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UN Syria envoy to step down next month

  • “I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mister said
  • He said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons”

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations envoy for Syria announced on Wednesday he will step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post, setting back UN efforts to end the seven-year war in Syria
“I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council during a meeting on the crisis in Syria.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who became the UN’s third Syria envoy in July 2014, said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons” and had discussed his plans to leave with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate,” he said.
De Mistura will be traveling to Damascus next week to push for the creation of a committee to agree on a post-war constitution for Syria.
Syria is resisting the UN-led effort to set up the constitutional committee that will be comprised of government officials, opposition members and representatives of civil society.
De Mistura was appointed UN envoy for Syria in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following the failure of peace talks in Geneva.
Brahimi spent two years in the position, stepping in after former UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role.
More than 360,000 people have died in the war in Syria, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad but has since morphed into a complex war with myriad armed groups, some of which have foreign backing.