What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle past a US military vehicle patrolling the town of Tal Tamr, in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province, on September 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2020

What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

  • Deployment of additional American troops after clash with Russians is symbolic warning to Moscow, analyst says

ANKARA: The decision by the US to boost its military presence in Syria following an encounter with Russian forces has raised concerns about the message the move sends to Turkey, Russia and Iran, as Washington attempts to reinforce its deterrent role in the region.

However, experts said the show of force is unlikely to alter the status quo in the northeastern part of the country, which is already dominated by American and Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

In addition to about 500 troops that were already in the area, the US has deployed six armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a further 100 troops to the region in what is interpreted as an effort to deter Russia from meddling in areas where US and Kurdish forces jointly operate.

Last month, seven American soldiers were injured during an incident in which a Russian armored vehicle collided with a US military patrol vehicle.

Russia and Turkey held a new round of talks on Sept. 15 and 16 in Ankara about the situation in Syria. However, they failed to reach a consensus about downgrading the latter’s military presence in the rebel-held Idlib province, where more than 20,000 Turkish troops are deployed.

Russia expects Turkish troops to withdraw from areas south of M4 highway, in line with a previous agreement between the two nations, but authorities in Ankara are unwilling to pull out as they want to clear the cities of Manbij and Tel Rifaat of YPG forces.

Alexey Khlebnikov, an independent strategic risk consultant and MENA expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said that Turkey is likely to want something in return for reaching an agreement with Russia about deployment in Idlib.

“Moscow wants Ankara to pull out its troops from south of the M4 highway because that is what both sides agreed in March,” he said. “South Idlib in exchange for some concessions in the northeast and areas where Kurds are present might result in an agreement between Ankara and the Kremlin.”

The deployment of additional US forces is unlikely to affect the discussions between Turkey and Russia or alter the dynamics of their relationship, according to Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford.

“They are principally a symbolic warning shot to Russia not to harass or inflict harm on US forces in Syria,” he said. “But even their ability to deter Russian aggression is limited, as Moscow is very confident that the US would choose to withdraw from Syria rather than drag itself much deeper into the Syrian conflict, at least as long as Donald Trump remains president.”

The effect on the ground of the additional deployment will therefore be marginal, Ramani added, but it might lead to deeper discussions in Washington about the goals of the mission in Syria and whether the US needs to be there, which could have longer-term effects after the US elections in November.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said that the US sent additional troops to Syria to reinforce the defensive posture of existing forces.

“The White House only gave a green light for an additional 100 troops for 90 days, which incidentally coincides with the end of Trump’s first term,” he said.

Therefore, he added, the move is unlikely to have any significant effect on regional dynamics as Russia and Turkey await the outcome of the US elections, which could redefine Washington’s relations with Moscow and Ankara.

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

Updated 9 min 12 sec ago

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

  • Hariri immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan
  • He has previously led three governments in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three-time Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was named to the post for a fourth time Thursday and immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan.
Hariri said he would “form a cabinet of non politically aligned experts with the mission of economic, financial and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative roadmap.”
“I will work on forming a government quickly because time is running out and this is the only and last chance facing our country,” he added.
President Michel Aoun named Hariri to form a new cabinet to lift the country out of crisis after most parliamentary blocs backed his nomination.
Hariri, who has previously led three governments in Lebanon, stepped down almost a year ago under pressure from unprecedented protests against the political class.
“The president summoned... Saad Al-Deen Al-Hariri to task him with forming a government,” a spokesman for the presidency said.
Hariri was backed by a majority of 65 lawmakers, while 53 abstained.
Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from a devastating port blast that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of Beirut in August.
Aoun warned Wednesday that the new prime minister, the third in a year, would have to spearhead reforms and battle corruption.
A relatively unknown diplomat, Mustapha Adib, had been nominated in late August following the resignation of his predecessor Hassan Diab’s government in the aftermath of the deadly port blast.
Adib had vowed to form a cabinet of experts, in line with conditions set by French President Emmanuel Macron to help rescue the corruption-ridden country from its worst ever economic crisis.
He faced resistance from some of the main parties however and threw in the towel nearly a month later, leaving Lebanon rudderless to face soaring poverty and the aftermath of its worst peacetime disaster.