Jordanian, Turkish Military Ops Stumble in Syria after Flynn’s Exit

Mike Flynn’s abrupt ouster as US National Security Adviser on Monday, Feb. 12 landed without warning on the heads of two American allies, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, both of whom were in the middle of operations in Syria, which Flynn had designed and navigated on behalf of the Trump administration.
The news caught the king just two days after a Syrian rebel force led by Jordanian officers had embarked on a major offensive to capture the southern town of Daraa, an operation given the green light during Abdullah’s meeting with Trump in Washington on Feb. 2.
The king was jolted again when the Russian and Syrian commands reacted to the news with swift and heavy air bombardments of the assault force advancing on Daraa.
This act was taken as a sharp message from Moscow that the Russian-US military coordination deal for Syria that was managed by the dismissed adviser was on hold, until the Trump administration made it clear that its Russian policy was unchanged.
Flynn’s fall from grace also brought Turkish President Erdogan up short, while on a tour of Saudi and Gulf capitals to sell the Trump line, also shaped by the departed adviser, for US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates to combine forces for the battle against the Islamic State.
At a loss for a response, Erdogan noted irrelevantly that he had “informed the newly elected US President Donald Trump that beating ISIS will come through cleansing Al-Raqqa, which is the main ISIS stronghold in Syria.”
This was not the Turkish president’s first shock from Washington. On Jan. 25, five days after inauguration, Trump announced he would support safe zones for Syria, a plan Erdogan feared would lay the groundwork for a Syrian Kurdish autonomous state on the Turkish border.
For now, Erdogan needs to know how the shakeup in Washington bears on the Turkish army’s offensive to seize the strategic northern Syrian town of Al Bab from ISIS occupation. He has kept the fighting low key to minimize Turkish casualties. But to avoid getting bogged down after three months of fighting, he needs cooperation from the Americans, Russians and the Assad regime in Damascus.
The Turkish ruler had hoped to impress President Trump with the efficacy of this military partnership sufficiently to gain the extradition of opposition leader Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of masterminding last July’s failed coup against him. With Mike Flynn’s ouster, Ankara has lost its most committed lobbyist for this case in Washington, and the Turkish army is at a loss about the fate of the military coordination plans he devised.
Erdogan’s boasts of Turkish battlefield successes and ISIS retreats are whistling in the dark, which don’t quite match the facts.
Another Middle East leader looking for answers is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is in Washington this week for his first face-to-face with Trump as president. That event is the subject of a separate article in this issue.

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