A brutal 10-year civil war, nearly 500,000 people killed, and a national infrastructure in shambles with entire cities nothing more than bombed-out ruins. Twelve million people scrambling to find enough food to make it through the day.

Now imagine, the man entirely responsible for this colossal mess and devastation was just re-elected president for a fourth term, and was sworn in last week. Well, this is the case as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, allegedly, won 95 percent of the popular vote. Yeah, right.

And he will be president for seven more years. As if this is not enough, during his inaugural speech, Assad claimed to be the only person who can fix and rebuild the same country that he has destroyed. Totally crazy, right? What on earth are we supposed to do with that?

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq early in the morning of September 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIS targets in Syria. (Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/U.S. Air Force)

A Dangerous Hodgepodge

The U.S. military has been conducting operations in Syria since 2015. As of now, the U.S. has around 900 troops in the country. Most people probably don’t realize we still have troops there in active combat operations. These troops are involved in a variety of missions since the conflict in Syria is anything but simple. What started as air support for local militias fighting against both the Syrian government and ISIS, turned into ground combat and advisory missions.

Between all the factions and players involved in Syria, it is very difficult to keep track of what is actually going on. The U.S., Iran, Russia, the Syrian government, Israel, local militias, the Kurds, and ISIS, are attempting to influence the outcome. China has now also gotten involved and Iraq does have a small part, as well. Given the complexity of having troops from all of these parties acting in close proximity and risking escalation on a daily basis, it is easy to wonder what our mission in Syria really is.

What have we accomplished so far with our time in Syria and what is our goal? How much longer do we plan to be there, and should we continue to stay longer?

The US Strategy in Syria

Our time in Syria has now spanned three presidential Administrations. Obama, Trump, and now President Biden, all committed to various levels of involvement. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, argued earlier this year that the U.S. strategy in Syria has failed and that we must acknowledge that we cannot build a new state in the country. He also suggests that we should withdraw U.S. forces, and be content to let Russia and Turkey take the lead in containing ISIS in the region.

Ostensibly, our strategy in Syria is to contain ISIS and prevent its spread and influence. (Although, during the Trump administration the strategy slightly shifted.)