Monday, October 21, 2019

The Struggle for Eastern Syria Continues

Turkey is only building a presence--mostly with local proxy forces, as in the northwest--in a border strip in the northeast. That limited presence doesn't change everything. It is a complicated theater with many actors with competing and/or overlapping objectives.

A thousand American troops in Syria--not just the 50 in the Kurdish border region--are going to the border inside Iraq in order to be in the position to hit ISIL in eastern Syria. Our secretary of defense said another mission is to protect Iraq:

Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.

"One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps," he said. "Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that's the game plan right now." ...

Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.

Asked if U.S. special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.

Several hundred Americans in Tanf in the southeast will remain. Unless I read otherwise, I assume our coalition partners like Britain, France, and Arab allies will keep troops in eastern Syria.

I also assume our thousand doesn't include our own special forces which we usually don't discuss along with regular forces. But I could be wrong.

And I assume we might send troops back in to Syria when things on the Turkish border settle down.

We do have interests in maintaining a position in eastern Syria. And defending Iraq is one of the interests I laid out.

But I've long said we have to decide why we are fighting in eastern Syria post-ISIL caliphate. If not, we risk having troops in a region with escalating hostilities without any debate here about whether our objectives are worth fighting for in the changing environment and whether we need more troops or different approaches. I do not want a Beirut Barracks bombing or Battle of Mogadishu taking place as our enemies escalated without our politicians and people back home noticing the change.

Although fighting for a Kurdish state and redrawing borders in the Middle East is not one of those interests.

This is not a domestic political issue. This is a foreign policy issue. Work the problem.

UPDATE: Are the Iraqis this blind?

U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country, Iraq's military said Tuesday as American forces continued to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey's invasion of the border region.

Does Iraq's military not understand that American forces moved from Syria to Iraq can help protect Iraq?

Let's wait to see what their prime minister says.

UPDATE: Strategypage notes that the Iraqis simply recognize this as an opportunity to get money from Iran and America. Most Iraqis do understand that Iraq needs America to block Iran. We have 4 weeks before those troops have to leave Iraq--or get a deal with Iraq, of course.