Trump team’s tough talk with Syria working – for now – to stave off chemical attack on Idlib
The Trump administration’s stern warnings against plans by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his allies – namely Iran and Russia to wipe out the opposition-held stronghold of Idlib have at least temporarily kept the expected attack from moving forward, Syrian opposition activists tell Fox News
“The offensive is certainly on hold, and that is in large part a result of the renewed commitment from the United States to establish consequences should Russia and the regime continue with reckless bombing of Idlib,” said Kenan Rahmani, Advocacy Manager at The Syria Campaign.
President Trump this week joined the voices of his entire foreign policy team – Vice President Mike Pence, U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new Syria envoy James Jeffrey – in issuing grim warnings to the Syrian government and its allies regarding the fate of Idlib, a city near the Syrian-Turkish border, where the remaining forces of Syrian opposition are holding out.
Rahmani on Thursday noted that in the previous 24 hours, air strikes from Russian aircraft in rebel-held areas significantly decreased, and lowered in intensity, a sign that America’s “renewed commitment” to standing up to powers in Moscow and Damascus – accompanied by the Turkish government’s deployment of more military equipment to the region – has brought a temporary reprieve.
“Russia and the regime have a long history of testing red lines and seeing what they can get away with, but there is a sense this time that this isn’t just rhetoric from the U.S, this is an actual policy,” Rahmani continued. “And the policy is that the U.S will absolutely not allow mass killings and mass atrocities.”
A Pentagon official confirmed the U.S. has seen a recent decrease in Russian airstrikes – though the situation remains dire.
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“Last week, despite warnings from the United States, United Nations, and U.S. allies – Russian Forces backing the Syrian regime extensively used airstrikes and barrel bombs, accompanied by regime rocket and artillery fire, in Idlib. In the last two days, however, we have seen some reduction in these attacks, and we welcome and encourage any lessening of violence, particularly in vulnerable civilian areas,” said Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesperson.
“We have engaged the Russian government and military at the most senior level to make clear that the U.S. and its partners would respond to any verified chemical weapon use in Idlib or elsewhere in Syria in a swift and appropriate manner,” Robertson added. “We encourage Russia to make this point clear to Damascus. Syria, Russia and Iran should know that the United States and the rest of the world are watching very closely, and will take appropriate action if there is a new slaughter in Idlib.”
Ayman Abdel Nour, founder of the pro-opposition humanitarian aid organization Syrian Christians for Peace, agreed the clear message from the Trump team was not only welcomed, but had a quick impact on regime and Russian behavior.
“The U.S is still the biggest player on the world stage, and when they raise the doors it matters,” he said. “Assad can’t do anything without Russia, and the second day after the Trump tweet warning them the Idlib operation was paralyzed. Russia used to caution that Idlib would be cleaned out by the end of September, now they are saying end of year which at least gives more time for a diplomatic deal.”