March 26, 2019

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Trump Orders State Dept. to Suspend Funds for Syria Recovery

Trump Orders State Dept. to Suspend Funds for Syria Recovery
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“The names of the deceased will be released at the discretion of the pertinent national authorities,” the statement said. “Details pertaining to the incident are being withheld pending further investigation.”

A statement released on Friday by the Ministry of Defense in London confirmed that the second soldier killed in the blast was British, and that the mission was to counter fighters with the Islamic State.

Coalition forces have been deployed to Syria to fight, alongside Kurdish militia allies, against the Islamic State. But with that group largely routed, the seven-year civil war in Syria has entered a dangerous new phase.

Two American allies, Turkey and the Kurds, who control parts of northern Syria, are fighting each other. And the Kurds and coalition forces are engaged in a tense standoff with the Syrian government, along with its allies — Russia, Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

On Thursday, President Trump suggested that the United States could pull its approximately 2,000 troops out of Syria “very soon.” The comments surprised Defense Department officials who have maintained that some kind of American presence in parts of Syria may be necessary to avoid recreating the conditions that led to the rise of the Islamic State — and also to avoid ceding influence in the country to Russia.

“Very soon, we’re coming out,” Mr. Trump said during a rally in Ohio. “We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it — sometimes referred to as ‘land’ — taking it all back quickly, quickly.”

The suspension of funds for recovery efforts in Syria comes as the administration reassesses its role in the conflict there, a State Department official said on Friday. The freeze on funding was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“There will be meetings on this next week,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a policy review was continuing. “Obviously, we, State, hope that this decision is reversed.”

A National Security Council official explained the White House’s position: “In line with the president’s guidance, the Department of State continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized, which they do on an ongoing basis.”

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had committed the aid in February in Kuwait at a meeting of countries who have joined together to defeat the Islamic State.

Pentagon officials in the past few months have said repeatedly that a complete withdrawal of American troops could leave a void. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that while American forces were no longer in “an offensive effort on the ground,” they continued to play a role. “We continue the operations in Syria,” he said.

It was unclear how the death of the American service member in the newest attack would influence Mr. Trump’s thinking on a possible American withdrawal. Beyond that, the Islamic State remains in the eastern half of Syria, and Defense Department officials caution that suggestions the group has been completely routed understates the Islamic State presence in Syria.

As if to demonstrate the complexity of the situation in Syria, President Emmanuel Macron of France sought on Thursday to position his country as a bridge between the Kurdish fighters and Turkey by serving as a mediator in talks — an effort that was rejected by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Mr. Macron told a delegation of that included a number of Syrian Kurds that France “honored the sacrifices and the determining role” played by Kurdish fighters in the battle against the Islamic State, which has largely been driven out of Syria, and he expressed concern about Afrin, the northern enclave where Turkey recently pushed out the Kurds.

He stopped short, however, at least in his public statements, from offering to back the Kurds militarily. It was a similar balancing act as the one taken in February by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who when asked about Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria said that France had already warned that it was “not acceptable to add war to war” in Syria.

Mr. Erdogan ridiculed his French counterpart on Friday, saying that he met with Mr. Macron last week and that the French leader was saying “weird things” that required Mr. Erdogan to say, “tough.”

“We don’t need a negotiator,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Since when has Turkey had an issue of sitting down at a table with terror groups? Where did you get this? You can sit down with terror groups, but Turkey fights against terror as it did in Afrin. You keep going on like this. Who do you think you are that you can utter the word negotiating between Turkey and terror groups?”

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