Damascus (GPA) – With the war on ISIS winding down, US soldiers prepare to leave their illegal posts.
Earlier today, a statement was issued by the US-backed coalition in Syria – part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – announced that 400 members of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment would be leaving Syria. The marines were deployed in Syria for just over two months after they replaced a previous unit.
The good news is, according to the statement, that the “replacements have been called off,” for this particular group of marines.
The bad news, however, is that even though the commanders in OIR feel that “The departure of these outstanding Marines is a sign of real progress in the region,” there are still more US troops in Syria. According to the statement, these “remaining forces will continue to work by, with, and through partner forces to defeat remaining ISIS, prevent a re-emergence of ISIS, and set conditions for international governments and NGOs to help local citizens recover from the horrors of ISIS.”
The problem with the second part of the OIR statement is those other troops it mentions.
There currently is no realistic guess as to the number of troops in Syria, with ratings ranging from the Pentagon’s official amount of 500 to other figures in internal reports accounting for over 1,700. Even this number is not to be trusted since when the Pentagon was initially saying only 500 soldiers were in Syria, one military commander accidentally told reporters it was 4,000, which the US later denied.
This most recent Pentagon quarterly report also showed troops levels in neighboring Iraq to be almost 9,000. This is an even more significant difference that the numbers in Syria as the last official figure released was around 5,200.
The 400 marines on the way out also aren’t that important in the big picture when you consider the fact that the other groups of US soldiers have set up infrastructure for a long-term occupation of northern Syria. This includes all the bases and facilities hastily erected in Kurdish territory.
As far as the soldiers staying behind, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Reuters earlier this year that he expects US troops to be in northern Syria “for decades to come.”
The area where most of the collusion between the SDF and US forces is now taking place is around the northeastern Syrian city of Raqqa. This is the area where the US was also found to be letting ISIS fighters surrender in exchange for transportation to other parts of Syria.
Regardless of this US strategy, the Syrian Army and their allies have still managed to crush ISIS in this area, eroding the buffer that stood between them and US-backed forces. Whether the Kurds like it or not, Raqqa is a Syrian city, and it will be completely legal if Syrian forces (backed by Russia) move to reclaim it.
The US says they’re willing to act alone in Syria but whether Washington is willing to invest the resources to stop the inevitable confrontation with Damascus and Moscow remains to be seen.
Also published on Medium.