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Rivals are jockeying for position as Biden considers a strategy for the Syrian conflict.

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Rivals are jockeying for position as Biden considers a strategy for the Syrian conflict.
Rivals are jockeying for position as Biden considers a strategy for the Syrian conflict.

Rivals are jockeying for position as Biden considers a strategy for the Syrian conflict.

 

As the Biden administration considers its place in Syria’s ongoing conflict as it seeks to distance itself from Middle East wars, Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat has already been on the field, trying to win support for a Syria strategy that could position Russia as a regional security and power broker.

Due to a war that has killed millions and displaced millions, the new US administration has yet to say how it wants to tackle Syria, which is now divided among a half-dozen militaries — including US troops. Al-Qaida affiliates, Islamic State forces, and other jihadist groups willing to use Syria as a base are all involved in the fighting.

Russia and Iran have intervened to keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, after he used chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and hunger to put down what began as a peaceful uprising. The war is now in its eleventh year.

Dealing with Syria’s war would bring the Biden administration’s commitment to concentrate on Asia rather than the Middle East to the test. If the US reduces its influence in the region, Russia and other aggressive US adversaries are poised to step in and increase their regional power and wealth.

As a result, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is touring the Middle East this month.

Lavrov stood by as the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf state that is traditionally friendly to Washington, delivered a message that echoed Moscow’s position: US sanctions on Syria’s Russia-backed regime were impeding international efforts to rebuild Syria. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said that it is time to reintegrate Syria into the Arab world.

In other words, Russia’s message is that “the Syria war is over, Assad has won, and Assad will be in power as long as he is breathing air,” according to Frederic Hof, a former Obama administration Syria advisor and envoy.

According to Hof, an unspoken part of the message is that Russia intends to be present as “Syria is rebuilt from the rubble,” benefiting from any foreign reconstruction funds and positioning itself as the mediator to handle the region’s security challenges posed by Syria.

Hof and James F. Jeffrey, a career diplomat who served as President Donald Trump’s Syria envoy under both Republican and Democratic administrations, argue that the US should maintain a substantial presence in the region, citing Russia’s ambitions.

“If this is the Middle East’s security future, we’re all in trouble,” Jeffrey warns. “Putin and Lavrov are pushing for that.”

The Biden administration is debating whether Syria should be considered one of the country’s most pressing national security issues.

It hasn’t shown any signs of doing so yet. President Joe Biden has made other Middle East issues a priority, such as Yemen’s war and Iran’s nuclear program, for which he named envoys, but he and his officials have said and done nothing publicly about Syria.

Syria is at the center of a congressional controversy on whether or not presidents should have the authority to launch military strikes in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The debate began with President Barack Obama’s consideration of military strikes in Syria, according to Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Congress has taken a back seat in some of the most consequential decisions a country can make.”

Last week, Biden made one of his few public mentions of Syria since taking office, when he mentioned it among international issues on which the United Nations Security Council could focus more.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement with European counterparts commemorating the tenth anniversary of the start of the Syrian war, emphasizing the need for humanitarian relief for Syrian civilians and transparency for the Assad regime.

In northeast Syria, where oil and natural gas are found, US troops are assisting in the protection of an opposition enclave. Blinken framed the military position as a “point of leverage” in negotiations over the international handling of Syria during Biden’s campaign last year, rather than a permanent power.

Officials from the National Security Council and the State Department refused to address detailed questions about Biden’s Syria strategy, such as whether the administration considers the Syrian conflict to be a significant national security concern or whether an envoy will be appointed.

Biden is following in the footsteps of Obama and Trump in attempting to reduce America’s military presence in the Middle East and change the country’s foreign policy emphasis to Asia, where China has become more assertive.

However, the Middle East’s wars, as well as the US’s own diplomatic plans, have a way of drawing Americans out. Last month, Biden became the sixth president of the United States to bomb a Middle Eastern target, striking an Iranian-backed militia in Syria that had targeted American and allied troops in Iraq.

Syria, according to some current and former US Middle East diplomats, is not a top security threat to the US.

In a Foreign Affairs article last year, Robert S. Ford, an Obama administration ambassador to Syria with years of diplomatic experience in the region, concluded that the US should begin pulling its troops out of northeast Syria, arrange for Russia and others to deal with jihadist fighters, and devote US funds to aiding the war’s refugees.

However, Hof and Jeffrey, two other former administration officials who dealt with Syria, argue against withdrawal.

“I would pray that that advice is pursued if I were an ISIS leader now desperately trying to coordinate an uprising to return to Syria,” Hof said. “It doesn’t get any better than having the (Syrian) government, the Iranians, and the Russians as your enemies,” the Islamic State group says.

According to Mona Yacoubian, senior Syria advisor at the US Institute for Peace, a test of Biden administration intentions is looming, as Russia tries to use its U.N. Security Council role to shut down a humanitarian aid route into parts of Syria not controlled by the Russia-backed Syrian government.

Maintaining or bolstering the US presence in Syria would be critical, according to Yacoubian, not only as leverage in diplomatic talks, but also to form the rules of the game for Russia’s Middle East presence. Other immediate priorities for the international community remain, she said, making life “more manageable and less miserable for Syrians.”

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins’ defense deserves praise for helping turn season around

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins’ defense deserves praise for helping turn season around

There is often an opportunity that discomfort creates if it is welcomed.

It’s called growth, and that is what we’ve been witnessing from the Miami Dolphins defense the past five weeks, where that unit’s development, and tightening of the screws has helped the Dolphins (6-7) transform from an NFL laughingstock due to their seven straight losses into a franchise deserving some respect.

Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy, anticipation and pocket presence have allowed the offense become respectable during Miami’s five-game winning streak. But it’s the defense that is doing the heavy lifting once again.

If there’s one thing the 2021 season has taught us is that expecting things to carryover from one season to the next in the NFL is shortsighted.

The slightest alteration of your roster — like a swap from safety from Bobby McCain to Jevon Holland, a change at outside linebacker from Kyle Van Noy to Jaelan Phillips, the absence of an edge setter Shaq Lawson — could drastically alter your team’s chemistry, shift the unit’s strengths and weaknesses, and impact the team’s style of play.

Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer got a crash course on this earlier this season when he tried to run the same scheme that produced one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses in 2020 with different personnel.

While the defensive play-calls might have been similar — if not the same — the execution wasn’t, and the product on the field left plenty to be desired considering the Dolphins sat at the bottom of many important NFL statistical rankings before the wins started piling up.

Then comfort set in, roles were adapted, and the screws tightened. During this five-game winning streak Miami’s defense allowed just four touchdowns, a stretch where Miami’s opponents averaged 11 points per game.

“I feel like we’re back to that level,” Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard said, referring to the sack-producing, turnover-creating unit the Dolphins possessed last season. “I feel like everybody is confident, everybody is having fun.”

But the road back to respectable wasn’t easy, and featured some growing pains.

For instance, Miami’s run defense tightened once nose tackle Raekwon Davis returned from the knee injury he suffered in the season opener. In the nine games Davis has played since his return only three teams have rushed for 100 or more yards against Miami.

As a result, the Dolphins rank ninth against the run now, allowing 103.8 rushing yards per game, heading into this weekend’s bye.

Clamping down against the run set the table for everything else, but Miami had to overcome some injuries, and be patient with its young players’ development to get here.

Howard and Byron Jones, Miami’s two upper-echelon cornerbacks, the talents whose skill-set this defense is built around, were each nursing a groin injury at the same time earlier in the season. Their injuries impacted their performance, and the schemes Miami could run for nearly a month.

It also took Holland, the Dolphins’ 2021 second-round pick, half a season to become comfortable in Miami’s defense. Now the former Oregon standout is one of the team’s top playmakers, and a leader the secondary leans on.

He’s proof that sometimes teams have to wait for young players to blossom.

That seemed to be the case with not just Holland, but Phillips, whom the Dolphins selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2021 draft. The former University of Miami standout struggled to quickly learn everything that came with being a linebacker in Miami’s scheme.

The Dolphins eventually scrapped (or tabled) the outside linebacker role, and began to use Phillips exclusively as a pass rusher. Last Sunday Phillips set a Dolphins rookie record by reaching 8.5 sacks on the season, and seven of them have come in the past five games.

To simplify things for Phillips, Jerome Baker became an edge player, returning to the outside linebacker role he held in his rookie season. That opened the door for Duke Riley to get more playing time at inside linebacker.

Miami’s defense evolved into what it is today through trial and error and ultimately found a formula that works for this unit — not last year’s defense.

Last year the Dolphins defense allowed a touchdown 57.4 percent of the time teams reached the red zone, which ranked Miami seventh in that statistical category.

This year Miami is allowing 50 percent of red-zone opportunities to turn into touchdowns, which ties Miami with Buffalo for fourth in the NFL.

Only Baltimore, New England and New Orleans are better, and that’s good company to keep.

“It’s about trusting the process. Believing in what you’re doing. Believing in the scheme, and believing in the players,” Boyer said. “From the players, from the coaches, even when things haven’t been good. We all understand that we’re approaching things the right way. We’re working the right way. We haven’t always gotten the results we wanted. Just because you work hard, prepare the right way, coaching it the right way, it really comes down to execution on Sundays.”

The evolution will continue as Holland, Phillips and Baker become more comfortable in their new roles.

The hope is that the growth we’ve seen this past month will carry on throughout the final four games of the regular season, and maybe next year’s defense will start out the 2022 season with less discomfort.

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Three-vehicle crash on C-470 shuts down highway near E-470 junction

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Three-vehicle crash on C-470 shuts down highway near E-470 junction

The westbound lanes of C-470 have been shutdown along the junction with E-470 by a three-vehicle crash.

The highway is closed at Interstate 25 where E-470 turns into C-470, according to E-470 officials.

The three-vehicle crash happened at about 1:55 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Colorado State Patrol. At least two people have been taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Traffic is being detoured and authorities ask drivers to avoid the stretch if possible.

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A skier from Nederland died Tuesday at Eldora Ski Area

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A skier from Nederland died Tuesday at Eldora Ski Area

A local skier died Tuesday at the Eldora Ski Area after hitting a tree.

At about 10:25 a.m., ski patrol members found the 60-year-old man lying in the trees along the Hot Dog Alley ski run, according to a Boulder County Sheriff’s Office news release.

The skier, from Nederland, was unconscious and the ski patrol began first aid including CPR, the release said. The man, who was skiing alone, was pronounced dead, at 11 a.m. in a first-aid room.

On Nov. 30, a skier, a 72-year-old man, died in a collision with a snowboarder at Eldora.

 

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