26 January 2016

Russia and U.S., While Pushing for Peace Talks, Jockey for Position in Syria

by Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt, New York Times

The Russian military is expanding its footprint in Syria, setting up operations at an airfield in a northeastern, mostly Kurdish province across the country from its main coastal base. In an adjacent province, locals say the United States is intensifying its aid to Kurdish militias, even taking over a small agricultural airport; Pentagon officials denied this. And some Syrian fighters say Russia has reached out to Sunni tribes, offering to help them fight the Islamic State extremist group in the east after similar American efforts failed.
As diplomats from Russia and the United States work to bring Syria’s government and its domestic opponents to peace talks next week, the two countries are jockeying for position on the ground in Syria in a battle that will continue regardless of any peace deal: the fight against the Islamic State.
Both powers seem to be presuming that the peace effort will fail and digging in for the next phase of war. Their separate, and competing, new efforts against the Islamic State are part of a parallel battle over who will lead the fight against the extremist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and possibly take credit for defeating it…

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