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Dear Donald Trump, Please Don't Collaborate With Russia To Fight ISIS

Sands have shifted in the Levant, writes Susan E. Reed, and urgent new problems now face the Trump administration. Pictured: Traditional Russian wooden dolls, Matryoshka, depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, displayed for sale at a street souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)
Sands have shifted in the Levant, writes Susan E. Reed, and urgent new problems now face the Trump administration. Pictured: Traditional Russian wooden dolls, Matryoshka, depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, displayed for sale at a street souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)
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COMMENTARY

There are at least three things wrong with President Trump’s suggestion that Russian President Vladimir Putin help the U.S. defeat Islamic State: Russia cannot be trusted. Collaborating with the Russians would compromise the integrity of the U.S. military and NATO. The Russians are already fighting IS.

Trump first backed the collaboration more than six months ago. In fact, the Obama administration had developed a tentative agreement with the Russians to cooperate militarily against IS and al-Nusra (al-Qaida) in Syria. Instead of following through, the Russians broke a ceasefire in September and began a relentless air campaign that enabled the Syrian government to take Aleppo, committing war crimes with indiscriminate bombing that killed more than 440 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.

One look at the apartment buildings, hospitals and schools pulverized by the Russian military wherever they have operated... should sufficiently demonstrate that we don’t want them acting on America's behalf...

In her nomination hearing to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations last week, Gov. Nikki R. Haley (R-S.C.), said she agreed that Russia had committed war crimes in Syria. One look at the apartment buildings, hospitals and schools pulverized by the Russian military wherever they have operated, be it Chechnya or Syria, should sufficiently demonstrate that we don’t want them acting on America's behalf, using cluster bombs against children, doctors and other non-combatants.

After hearing Trump’s criticism of NATO, Russia has set out to weaken the 28-member security organization. Russia persuaded Turkey, a NATO member, to join its air force on anti-IS bombing runs Jan. 18 and 23 near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab close to the Turkish border.

During his inauguration, while Trump promised to put America first, Putin was actually putting Russia first in the Middle East. Putin signed an agreement that would expand its naval base in Tartus, Syria, enabling twice the number of Russian warships to dock and a second runway to be built there.

This photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows an Islamic State group target in Syria hit by a Russian air strike on Jan. 24. The mission targeted the Islamic State group around Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria where the Islamic State group has launched an offensive against Syrian government forces. (AP)
This photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows an Islamic State group target in Syria hit by a Russian air strike on Jan. 24. The mission targeted the Islamic State group around Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria where the Islamic State group has launched an offensive against Syrian government forces. (AP)

The U.S. and its allies do not need Russia’s help fighting IS in Syria. Even during the transition of administrations, the U.S. military stayed its course in Syria, continuing to isolate IS around its headquarters in Raqqa. At the same time, Russia had no choice but to help the U.S. achieve its goals by fighting IS up the road in Deir Ezzor, a city that had been divided for a long time between the Syrian army and IS. But a new influx of IS soldiers has caused the government to lose ground.

As the Iraqi army pushed IS out of Mosul, IS fighters left the city, crossed the Syrian border and are supporting their IS brothers in Deir Ezzor. This month, IS has pitched battle against Syrian government forces using mortars, car bombs, artillery and small arms fire.

Russians criticized the U.S. for not stopping IS militants as they drove to Deir Ezzor, which is located between Mosul, Iraq, and the IS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. Former State Department spokesperson John Kirby disputed Russia’s claims during a press briefing last week, saying the U.S. has taken opportunities “to pound Daesh [IS] from the air.” However, recent U.S. strikes near Deir Ezzor, a city surrounded by oil fields and refineries, mainly focused on preventing IS from using and selling fuel, which funds their operations.

If [NATO loses Turkey], Trump will be blamed for losing Turkey to a Russian sphere of influence due to his flawed analysis and his public disparagement of venerable institutions.

The United Nations called for unimpeded access to the 93,000 civilians who are left in Deir Ezzor. The World Food Program suspended airdrops last week after IS surrounded and damaged the military airport they were using.

Sands have shifted in the Levant, and urgent new problems now face the Trump administration. IS will likely be defeated this year in Syria. Meanwhile, NATO could be poised to lose Turkey, one of its valued and strategically important members, located at the entrance to Europe from the Middle East and Asia. If that happens, Trump will be blamed for losing Turkey to a Russian sphere of influence due to his flawed analysis and his public disparagement of venerable institutions.

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Susan E. Reed Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Susan E. Reed is a columnist who has won several awards for her international reporting and her book, "The Diversity Index."

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