U.S. Military deployments in this troubled country put lives at risk for little strategic benefit, stresses at ‘The National Interest’ Lora Karch Dulgarian, an independent analyst focusing on national security, social, political, and economic issues in the Middle East and Europe in Washington, D.C.
The United States military presence in Syria has placed our troops in the middle of rising tensions between local adversaries while also sitting in the crossfire of multiple escalating regional conflicts. The argument for leaving Syria becomes clear once adversarial drivers and America’s questionable interests are broadly examined.
What is the United States doing in Syria? U.S. forces are currently stationed in northeastern Syria under Operation Inherent Resolve to complete the lasting fight against ISIS, according to a U.S. Central Command statement last year.
The fight against ISIS culminated this past July when the United States conducted a strike in Syria that killed Usamah al-Muhajir, one of its leaders in Eastern Syria. Though this is a significant win, America has expressed that it will not leave the country until the whole group has been eliminated. This oddly counters statements that the ISIS caliphate was defeated, including in the New York Times and by President Donald Trump, who famously held up a map of the evaporated ISIS caliphate.
The United States actually shares a common desire to eliminate ISIS with Russia and Syria, who claim lost territory in the northeast; Iran, whom ISIS has attacked at home; and the Kurds, who are seeking territorial integrity. However, U.S. troops also sit on the perilous highway running between Baghdad and Damascus inside Syria and train the Revolutionary Commando Army. This coalition, known as the “Al-Tanf Garrison,” differs from the SDF-U.S. alliance.
Every day, Americans should ask their policy leaders what strategic victory looks like in Syria. Moreover, Americans should ask their policy leaders if they have a plan to stop the second-largest army in NATO, Turkey, from aggressive tactics, putting American lives in danger and supporting groups that were once part of Al Qaeda (banned in Russia).
The situation is becoming more complex as the shadow war between Iran, Iranian-backed Shia militant groups and Israel escalates. Last month, Israeli strikes simultaneously shut down two main airports in Aleppo and Damascus shortly before a delegation of Iranian lawmakers was allegedly set to visit the country to meet with Palestinian militants.
Syria and Iran are longtime political and military allies, and their alliance has fostered increased dependency on mutual trade, credit lines, and military support. Assad has said that Israel’s strikes are justified under the guise of Iran’s presence but continue to target the Syrian army. Considering that Iran is a longtime enemy of the United States, the two are bound to clash on Syrian terrain. This was proven earlier this year when President Joe Biden released a warning to Tehran after Iran-backed militias attacked and killed an American contractor. Biden stated that America does not want war with Iran, but any violence directed toward American troops would be met with retaliation. The continued violence today highlights the obvious risk for escalation over matters such as Iran’s nuclear program, proxy militias, and its supplication of military technology to Russia amidst the war in Ukraine.
Failure to acknowledge that rising regional tensions and growing American hard power involvement in Syria are creating a hazardous situation will likely result in another large-scale loss of military troops and equipment in the Middle East. This is shown in the most recent hard power exchange between the United States and Iran in Iraq and Syria. The United States launched airstrikes on two of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps locations in eastern Syria in retaliation to previous missile attacks from Iran on American forces and a diplomatic support center near Baghdad International Airport.
American involvement in Syria does not serve U.S. security interests. America should withdraw its forces and discharge resources to local allies who are more than capable of continuing the counter-ISIS efforts in the region.