The Pentagon intends to keep troops in Syria after the defeat of terrorist organization ISIS, despite calls from the country and its Russian and Iranian allies to expel U.S. forces, Newsweek reports.
For several years now, both the U.S. and Russia have sponsored separate, competing for anti-ISIS campaigns in Syria. As Moscow and its allies, which included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran, restored government control over the majority of Syria, they have increasingly called into question the continued role of Washington, which was also directly involved in prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Newsweek writes.
The Pentagon claims that its current presence was necessary as long as the threat of a resurgent ISIS and other Islamist militant groups remained.
“We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups. To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground, or plot external attacks,” Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon told AFP.
According to Pahon, the U.S.’s ultimate withdrawal from Syria would be “conditions-based”, without offering any timetables or further details on what those conditions might be. The U.S. was believed to have deployed around 1,723 troops in Syria, up from the 1,251 reported in June, Newsweek adds.
These troops have assisted the Syrian Democratic Forces in battling ISIS and looking to establish greater Kurdish autonomy in the north. As the U.S.-backed campaign to oust ISIS from its de facto capital of Raqqa neared the parallel offensive by Syrian troops and their Russian and Iranian allies against the militants in central Syria, tensions between the two factions rose drastically, Newsweek notes.
With ISIS believed to be on its final legs, Russia has taken a leading role in brokering peace talks in cooperation with Iran, which supported pro-Assad Shi’ite Muslim militias, and Turkey, which backed mostly Arab Sunni Muslim opposition fighters opposed to both ISIS presence and Kurdish autonomy.
Like Syria and Iran, Russia has disputed the legitimacy and legality of the U.S.’s mission in Syria, a question raised by Special Forces Operations commander Raymond Thomas himself earlier this year. Russia has accused the U.S.-led coalition of supporting “terrorism” and “extremist groups” through the six-year conflict, while the U.S. has accused Russia of killing large numbers of civilians in its bombing campaign.
However, in the past few days, both U.S. and Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets in eastern Syria, and Russia’s post-war reconciliation task force announced Monday that Kurds would provide security for Russian forces and Syrian officials working with local communities in the devastated region.