The US and its coalition, numbering the in dozens, have been involved in numerous military operations, including thousands of military personnel, in Syria on the premise of eradicating ISIS from the Middle Eastern country, albeit without the consent of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad or the UN Security Council.
Last week, US President Donald Trump proposed pulling out of the conflict on the basis that the US has dumped a massive amount of resources into these and other operations in the Middle East, with costs exceeding $7 trillion, with no recognizable benefit to the US or its citizens, let alone to those of the country that the US military is conducting these active operations in, who have only witnessed massive death and destruction.
President Trump’s proposal, however was short lived as the new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, together with special envoy to the US-led coalition Brett McGurk, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and director of the US Joint Staff, Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie on Tuesday quickly and vehemently advised against an immediate withdrawal of forces on the ground in Syria, on the basis that such a move would be contrary to America’s national interests.
Military Officials advise continued active leadership in campaign to eliminate ISIS
Brett McGurk stressed that the coalition was not through with its mission to, and that the US should continue active leadership in the campaign until ISIS is defeated. Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted that, should the US withdraw from Syria, that there would be a resurgence of the terrorist group, undoing all of the progress that the campaign has thus far achieved.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Dana White announced that the mission in Syria will continue and that the policy on the matter remained unchanged. In addition, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie revealed to reporters at the Pentagon that Washington would only adjust the level of the troops in Syria once ISIS has finally been eliminated.
Egypt today reports:
WASHINGTON – 5 April 2018: The U.S. military policy towards fighting Islamic State militants in Syria remains the same following discussions with President Donald Trump this week and the military has not been given a timeline for withdrawing troops, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer to defeat Islamic State but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
Trump had signaled his desire to get U.S. forces out of Syria in a speech last week, and officials said he had privately been pressing for an early withdrawal in talks with his national security aides.
“We’ve always thought that as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there, so in that sense nothing actually has changed,” Marine Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told a Pentagon briefing.
McKenzie said Trump has not given the U.S. military any timeline.
“We think as we go forward one of the things that we haven’t been given is a timeline and that is actually very effective… (The) President has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that is a tool that we will use to our affect as we move forward,” McKenzie said.
The United States is conducting air strikes in Syria and has deployed about 2,000 troops on the ground, including special operations forces whose advice has helped Kurdish militia and other U.S.-backed fighters capture territory from Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The Pentagon and State Department have said a longer term U.S. effort would be needed to ensure that Islamic State’s defeat is a lasting one.
Essentially, without a real timeline of withdrawal, and with the interest of removing Assad remaining one of the key goals to be accomplished in Syria, McKenzie’s statement that the number and amount of American assets and troops on the ground would only be “adjusted” once ISIS is eradicated in Syria is really quite telling.
Basically, as far as America is concerned, Syria is just like another Iraq for America. They will not rest until they have ousted Assad, set up a puppet government, and redrawn the map in Syria. Of course, with all of the international interest and involvement in these campaigns, that’s not all there is to the story. America’s allies in the region each have interests that they want to see advanced, and, for that reason, they will continue to lobby for the US’s involvement in Syria, so that we may never actually see the conflict reach a conclusion under present circumstances.
American Strategic Interests Served
When Trump complained about the sheer amount of resources that have been expended on America’s involvement in its ongoing campaign in Syria and Iraq, his military advisers immediately pointed out that a sudden withdrawal could not only undo America’s efforts to defeat ISIS, which is apparently quite close, or so they argued, but that other nations active in the region, such as Russia, Iran, and Turkey, would be totally free to go about pursuing their own interests in Syria, which runs totally counter to America’s interests, and those of its allies in the region. CNN reports:
“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS. We have almost completed that task, and we will be making a decision very quickly — in coordination with others in the area — as to what we’ll do,” Trump said.
“Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, ‘well, if you want us to stay, maybe you’re going to have to pay,'” he continued.
“But a lot of people … we do a lot of things in this country … we do ’em for a lot of reasons. But it’s very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us.”
“Think of it — $7 trillion over a 17-year period and we have nothing, nothing, except death and destruction. It’s a horrible thing. So, it’s time. It’s time,” Trump concluded.
However you parse these words, they are not flattering to America’s sacrifice in the region over nearly 16 years. (The 17 years he references would have to include the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, which isn’t in the Middle East).
According to Trump, not only has the US lost thousands of soldiers — and led a war that caused the deaths of tens of thousands more — for “nothing” but “death and destruction.” He is also willing to contract their services out as a regional enforcer, putting more American lives at risk, if the Saudis pay up. To many observers, these words would have been staggering.
So what are US troops doing in Syria? In February they gave us a tour of their secretive bases. There are small pockets of ISIS they are still hunting on the Iraqi border and in the wide expanses of desert.
The US presence can also be felt west of the Syrian Kurdish-held area known as Rojava, where US forces patrol the borderline between these US-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters and the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who want to take territory back from them. They are, in effect, peacekeepers.
To the south of Rojava, US troops have a similar role in keeping the Syrian regime and its Russian backers at bay. When some regime-loyal militias, aided by Russian contractors, tried to seize an oilfield in February, they were met with intense US firepower, killing dozens.
The short-term argument for keeping US troops in Syria is about supporting these Kurds, both as an unspoken mark of gratitude for their sacrifice in nearly defeating ISIS and as a bulwark against the group’s re-emergence.
But there is a broader, more strategic picture here, which serves far more than Saudi Arabian interests.
Iran is using its strong presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to secure its growing dominance in the region. US forces in Syria, while limited in capacity, can at least keep an eye on — and act as a speed bump for — that Iranian influence.
This suits the Saudis, who are Iran’s regional nemesis. But it also suits Israel, another US ally, who is becoming increasingly aligned with Saudi Arabia in its regional goals. It also suits Jordan, and the Gulf states, yet more US allies who would prefer to see Iran held in check.
While Turkey — another long-term ally of the US currently at odds with Washington — publicly despises the US support of the Syrian Kurds (whose Turkish brethren it calls terrorists), there must be a recognition in Ankara that if nothing else, the American presence in Syria can at least keep the Kurds there in check.
In short, a lot of interests are served by the US presence in Syria, which used to be part of an age-old game called “US strategic or regional interests.”
In short, America’s active involvement in Syria is far from over, and will not end any time soon. In reality, if America were to withdraw from Syria, the coalition would follow suit, and the conflict would be left up to Russia and Assad’s forces.
Such a maneuver, however, would not suit Israel, Jordan, the Saudis, or the Gulf States as the sheer amount of money and manpower that they have invested in the campaign would be totally lost as Assad regains control over his nation’s territory and a stronger relationship with Russia and Iran, meaning that they won’t get to come away with a piece of the action if the Coalition were to succeed in its endeavour and get a chance to redraw the map and set up a new regime friendly to their own interests.
Lastly, Assad’s government reestablishing control over all of its territory would also thwart Turkey’s activity in its attempt to gobble up parts of Syria. Syria will remain a central focus of international activity and interests likely for many years to come as the situation will only yield more conflict until someone is able to establish a high degree of stable, long term, control. Of course, with all of this considered, it is apparent that the fight against terrorism isn’t the real issue with all of this, but merely the premise used to justify the Western coalition in its empire development.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.