US pulled many ways in Syria as ISIS recedes
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the last few years, the United States could neatly sum its objective in Syria in a single, uncontroversial bullet point: fighting the Islamic State group. Now that the extremists have been squeezed from all but the last bits of their former territory, the Trump administration is struggling to define the boundaries of its mission, and how and when America’s lengthy engagement will end.
A crisis between the U.S. and Turkey, triggered by the latter’s new military offensive in Syria, has laid bare how a dizzying array of alliances in Syria is growing even more convoluted in the absence of IS as a major force. Either the Americans must abandon the Kurds who fought alongside them in Syria, or a profound rift with a NATO ally appears all but inevitable.
Although Turkey has long been incensed by U.S. military support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, calling them terrorists, the U.S. could make a compelling case while the Kurds spearheaded the anti-IS fight. As IS recedes as an immediate threat, the legs of that argument are falling away, fueling growing Turkish outrage that even the Trump administration acknowledges has some merit.
“This is a tough circle to square. It’s the ultimate in heavy diplomatic lifting,” said Frederic Hof, who oversaw Syria policy in the Obama administration’s first term and is now at the Atlantic Council.
The Islamic State’s retreat also has forced the U.S. to stretch thinner its legal rationale for operating in Syria. Doing so has raised delicate questions about whether Congress and the American people have truly signed off on a mandate for Syria that goes far beyond killing terrorists.
Myanmar ready to gradually receive Rohingya refugees
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar says it’s ready for a gradual repatriation of Muslim Rohingya refugees chased out by the Buddhist-majority country’s military. Bangladesh says it’s preparing for the transfer, but it might need more time.
And the refugees themselves?
In interviews in recent weeks with dozens of the nearly 700,000 Rohingya who’ve poured into Bangladesh since August in what’s become the world’s worst refugee crisis, The Associated Press has found deep skepticism, if not outright terror, about returning to a place where they say their homes were burned, their wives, sisters and mothers raped, and their friends and neighbors slaughtered.
The two nations’ border seemed calm Tuesday, despite some sense, in Myanmar, at least, that the proposed transfer of refugees might still go forward.
“No matter what, from our side, Myanmar is ready to start the process, but Bangladesh may have difficulties, causing a delay in sending refugees back,” said Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s social welfare minister.
If the desires of the refugees themselves are considered, it won’t happen any time soon. In the sprawling camps that cover the hills south of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, along the border with Myanmar, the Rohingya say they want to return to their burned villages, but only with strong outside monitoring of their safety and living conditions.
“How can we go back to Myanmar without anyone guaranteeing our security,” said Alam, a Rohingya in the Bulakhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, who, like many Rohingya, goes only by one name. “If we would be given homes in our villages that were burned, then we will go back.”