With the near-doubling of U.S. forces in northern Syria, and perhaps more on the way, President Donald Trump is moving aggressively on his pledge to “demolish and destroy” what remains of the Islamic State. American troops, backing a coalition of Kurds and Arabs known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), now have Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic States’s self-described caliphate, in their sights. Meanwhile, the Trump administration seems to be ramping up the intensity of the U.S. bombing campaign against al Qaeda’s deadly Syrian affiliate. But the lasting defeat of the Islamic State and al Qaeda will take more than American firepower — it will require a clear strategy to end the Syrian civil war. As long as the conflict rages, it will be impossible to address the underlying drivers of extremism and reorient combatants to truly eliminate the terrorist threat.
Six years of grinding war has left Syria a deeply fractured land. Yet this very fragmentation provides an opportunity for the Trump administration to work with Russia and key regional states to de-escalate the conflict and reach an enduring political settlement. Doing so will require close coordination with regional allies. But, more than anything else, it will also require the Trump administration to do three things it has to date not been keen to do: play hardball with Moscow, provide foreign aid to Syria, and engage Iran.
Read the full article at Foreign Policy.