National Security

Top US official for Syria and ISIS to retire this month

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James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special envoy for Syria engagement and the global coalition to defeat ISIS, will retire from his role this month.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement Monday, the same day the Trump administration said it would impose new sanctions against Syrian government officials and entities for their role in facilitating human rights abuses over the course of the country’s nearly decadelong civil war.

Pompeo, in his statement, praised Jeffrey as “an American patriot of the highest order” and essential in implementing the administration’s Middle East strategy.

Jeffrey, an Army veteran and career ambassador — the highest rank in the Foreign Service — came out of retirement in 2018 to take on the role of special envoy for Syria engagement. The following year he became the State Department’s lead diplomat in the coalition to defeat ISIS.

President Trump in March 2019 declared an end to the so-called ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, despite ongoing security challenges, pockets of territory controlled by the terrorist group, and the uncertainty surrounding captured fighters and their families who were either imprisoned in Iraqi and Syrian-Kurdish jails or sequestered in refugee camps.

The international coalition has continued military operations to root out remaining terrorist fighters and the Trump administration undertook pressure campaigns toward allied nations to repatriate foreign fighters in Iraqi and Syrian-Kurdish jails.

Pompeo said in his statement that Jeffrey “achieved remarkable results in each capacity, advancing our efforts toward a political resolution to the Syrian crisis and creating the conditions for an enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Jeffrey was also dispatched by the administration to negotiate a cease-fire between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces allied in the fight against ISIS following an offensive launched by Ankara in October 2019. That offensive came after Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.

“He supported the efforts of Vice President Pence and myself to successfully negotiate a cease-fire between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2019,” Pompeo said of Jeffrey.

Jeffrey’s dual roles will now be divided among State Department officials.

Joel Rayburn, currently deputy assistant secretary and special envoy for Syria, will assume Ambassador Jeffrey’s Syria engagement responsibilities.

Ambassador Nathan Sales, the coordinator for counterterrorism, will take on the role of special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Tags Donald Trump ISIS Mike Pompeo special envoy Syria

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