Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria November 4, 2018.
(photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)
The UK and France will send some additional troops to eastern Syria to backfill a US withdrawal that the Trump administration has been tinkering with for more than six months. According to Foreign Policy and later reported by The Guardian and The Independent, the number of troops is not very large – including only 15% more French soldiers – but it is a symbolic win for the US, which is trying to get others to shoulder the burden more.
The report indicates that this is a “victory” for the US national security team, but it is a kind of Pyrrhic victory, because the US only achieves its goals by reducing its presence and influence in eastern Syria. However, this is the long-term policy of the Trump administration, which is trying to end America’s long wars in places like Afghanistan. The administration has so far not been entirely successful, since a briefing by US Special Operations Command in 2018 said that its forces were operating in 90 countries globally. That is an increase from 80 countries in 2017, the first year that US President Donald Trump was in office.
In Syria, the US initially sought a larger role in 2017 as ISIS was pushed out of Raqqa and the US laid the groundwork for an expanded diplomatic presence. For those who wanted to confront Iran, this was welcomed news, because Iran plays a major role in Syria, including construction of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bases. However the idea that the US would remain in Syria astride the Iranian “road to the sea” that goes through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon was dashed in December 2018, when Trump said the US would leave, adding that the US could “watch” Iran from Iraq.
For the last six months, the US has tinkered with this plan, trying to figure out how to draw down several thousand troops and leave behind a remnant of just several hundred. The withdrawal also led to a scramble for eastern Syria between Damascus and Ankara, in which Turkey sought to claim it would invade eastern Syria to fight the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey is fighting a wide-ranging conflict with the PKK both domestically and in Iraq. Syria also wants eastern Syria back and had tried to negotiate with the Kurdish leadership in the region, who are partners of the US.
The US advanced a concept of a “safe zone,” or buffer, along the northern border of eastern Syria with Turkey. This would be filled by international forces, in a stratagem that seemed more smoke and mirrors than reality. Germany reportedly turned down US calls for it to assist over the weekend. However, the announcement that the French and British might send more forces is good news for Washington.
However, the numbers appear tiny; an increase of 15% would only be several dozen soldiers, hardly enough to help enforce a safe zone of hundreds of kilometers.The Independent
reported that a diplomatic source confirmed the reports in Foreign Policy
. The British Defence Ministry “refused to deny the report.” This means that it appears likely that a handful of additional troops will be coming to Syria in the next six months.
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