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Hours after Donald Trump confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he remains committed to his policy of working together with Russia to defeat ISIS and the other Jihadi terrorist groups in Syria, there are the first possible signs that the US military is starting to respond to the policy of the future Commander-in-Chief.
Step News, an Al-Qaeda connected media agency, has released a video showing two aircraft circling over Al-Qaeda controlled territory in Syria’s southern Idlib province.
One aircraft shown in the video is definitely a US A-10 Warthog. The other looks like a US F-15 Eagle.
It is not clear whether the US aircraft in question were carrying out air strikes against the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi fighters in the area or were merely undertaking surveillance to better learn the ground. However this is an area where there are no Syrian troops, so the presence of US aircraft in the area looks like a sign that US air strikes against Al-Qaeda may be coming.
A joint operation with the Russians to carry out joint air strikes against Al-Qaeda in Syria was a central part of the failed Kerry-Lavrov agreement, which fell apart in September.
US air strikes against Al-Qaeda in Syria have happened in the past, but they have tended to be few and far between, and have been more focused on killing individual well known Al-Qaeda commanders rather than damaging the organisation as a whole. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has moreover been known to be adamantly opposed to working alongside the Russians in Syria.
Trump does not become Commander in Chief until he is inaugurated in January. However the Joint Chiefs of Staff are hardly unaware of what his intentions are.
Importantly, Trump’s views are also supported by General Michael Flynn, who appears to be advising Trump on military questions, and who is a member of Trump’s transition team. General Flynn is a strong supporter of cooperation in Syria with Russia, and was a strong critic within the US military of President Obama’s Syrian policy.
Importantly Trump has even spoken of Flynn as his preferred choice for Defence Secretary, though Flynn would need to obtain a waiver from Congress for his appointment, which since he was a serving soldier just 2 years ago would otherwise breach the National Security Act 1947.
Since the US military know the opinions of Trump and Flynn, it would not be surprising if they are quietly adjusting their policies in Syria to prepare for their arrival. The appearance of US warplanes over Al-Qaeda controlled territory may be an early sign of that, in which case the much talked about joint US-Russian military operation against ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria may finally be about to happen.