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James Jeffrey assumes role of US envoy to defeat-ISIS Coalition

US Special Representative for Syria Engagement takes additional responsibility after Brett McGurk's December resignation over Syria troop withdrawal

James Jeffrey, the United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement has assumed the additional role of U.S. Special Envoy to the Global Coalition against Islamic State, the State Department said on Friday, January 4.

“With this additional responsibility, Ambassador Jeffrey will lead and coordinate U.S. Department of State relations with the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS and Department efforts to implement President Trump’s announcement of a responsible U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria that is coordinated with our global Allies and partners consistent with U.S. goals for Syria and Iraq, including the enduring defeat of ISIS,” spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement.

Jeffrey replaces Brett McGurk, who resigned as U.S. envoy to the Coalition in December following President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. Trump’s decision sparked turmoil within his administration, with James Mattis quitting as Secretary of Defense on December 20 over fundamental disagreements with Trump, including over Syria, and McGurk’s early departure which was announced the following day.

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Critics say the move to withdraw American troops puts U.S.-allied Kurdish forces at greater risk of a long-heralded Turkish military operation in territory controlled by the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance.

The predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forms the core of the multi-ethnic SDF which is waging the ground campaign against ISIS in Syria. Turkey considers the YPG inextricable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, but the YPG is not a proscribed organization in the European Union, United Kingdom or United States.

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The next meeting of the Coalition is set for February 7 in Washington.

President Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted that Jeffrey and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford will be part of a delegation to visit Turkey and Israel on January 5 and 6. Bolton tweeted they will discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, the ongoing battle against ISIS and countering “Iranian malign behavior in the region.”

Jeffrey’s appointment also comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares for a trip to the Middle East with stops in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait between January 8 and 15.

Pompeo’s trip will focus on two main themes – to reinforce that the U.S. is not leaving the Middle East despite the Syria withdrawal decision, and to galvanise support to counter what it terms Iran’s “destabilizing activities” – senior State Depart officials said in a January 4 background briefing.

“Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere, one official said. “The Secretary will reinforce that commitment to the region and our partners.”

Jeffrey was appointed as the Secretary of State’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement on August 17, 2018. He previously served as US Ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012, and Turkey from 2008 to 2010. He was Deputy National Security Advisor from 2007 to 2008.

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With reporting from AFP

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