President Obama approved a new military partnership with Russian forces to strengthen cooperation between the two nations in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The Obama administration sent the proposal to the Russian government Monday.
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The United States has promised to work with the Russian air force in coordinated targeting and bombing efforts against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria, in exchange for Russia convincing President Bashar al-Assad to halt his bombing campaign against U.S.-supported rebels.
The Russians have sought U.S. military collaboration against Jabhat al-Nusra for a long time, the Washington Post noted. The group is primarily attacking the Assad regime, which is allied with the government of President Vladimir Putin.
Obama personally approved the agreement and it clinched strong support from Secretary of State John Kerry.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter was initially opposed to the proposal, but he ultimately supported it.
"One big flaw is that it’s clear that the Russians have no intent to put heavy pressure on Assad," former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Washington Post. "And in those instances when the Russians have put pressure on, they’ve gotten minimal results from the Syrians."
Ford said increased bombing of Jabhat al-Nusra would likely lead to civilian deaths, which would help the group gain local support. He said there isn't enough reliable intelligence to distinguish between Jabhat al-Nusra targets and other rebel groups on the ground nearby.
Another administration official said the proposal lacks consequences for the Russians or the Assad regime if the bombing campaign against U.S.-backed rebels continues.
Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Washington Post that attacking Jabhat al-Nusra fighters would only strengthen Assad while weakening other Sunni Arab groups that are also fighting the regime. He said it could ultimately pave the way for Assad to capture Aleppo.
"If the U.S. and Russia open up on Jabhat al-Nusra, that changes the dynamics on the ground in Aleppo and Idlib," he said. "It would definitely benefit the Assad regime and it could potentially benefit the Kurds and ISIS."