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The Turkish government, along with Iran and Russia, met last week in Astana, Kazakhstan to discuss events in Syria and the enforcement of four de-escalation zones spread across Syria. In the previous Astana meeting in September 2017, the three sides agreed on a plan to send up to 500 Turkish troops into Idlib to man checkpoints, as part of a broader effort to monitor a de-escalation of hostilities of most of the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime in the area. The Turkish government also frequently threatens to invade Afrin, but has not yet deployed enough forces to do so.Turkey's fundamental concern with Kurdish empowerment in Syria is threefold: first, the SDF's anti-Daesh bona fides has undermined a decadeslong effort to isolate the PKK and to win support from western allies for military and intelligence assistance to target the group's infrastructure and finances. The Turkish deployment in Idlib has repercussions for short- and long-term American interests in northwest Syria. The Turkish effort could turn out to be successful, but the "and then what" question looms large: What are the longer-term plans to defeat an isolated and small group of Al-Qaeda elements in a largely "demarbled" Idlib?Looking beyond the micro dynamics in Idlib, the Turkish deployment of forces in Syria raises a series of policy challenges for the United States.For longer-term U.S. interests vis-a-vis Al-Qaeda elements in Syria, the de-escalation efforts could give Moscow leverage over a sacrosanct assumption of post-9/11 U.S. policy: air superiority in low-intensity conflicts to strike Al-Qaeda leadership targets at will.
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