United States military forces will remain in Syria in a long-term presence as part of a broader strategy from the Trump administration to achieve three goals, officials announced on Wednesday. First to prevent any resurgence by the Islamic State, to prepare diplomatically for the eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to curb the Iranian influence which is growing in the entire area.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a speech at Stanford University, called for “patience” on Assad’s departure – the clearest indication yet of an acknowledgment that Russia and Iran have bolstered Assad and that he is unlikely to leave power immediately.
Billed as the Trump administration’s new strategy on Syria, the announcement will prolong the risks and redefine the mission for the U.S. military, which has for years sought to define its operations in Syria along more narrow lines of battling Islamic State and has about 2,000 U.S. ground forces in the country.
“But let us be clear: the United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” while acknowledging many Americans’ skepticism of military involvement in conflicts abroad, Tillerson said.
U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions with Russia.
The speech by Tillerson reinforces what the administration’s policy is going to be. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had spelled out parts of it earlier. Trump as a presidential candidate had promised to steer clear of long-term US commitments in the Middle East but as events have shown in Afghanistan and now in Syria, the situation on the ground is a more difficult one than thought.
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