It appears that the least defensible part of the U.S. Syria mission is likely to continue indefinitely. Lara Seligman reports:
Despite President Donald Trump’s December pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria, the U.S. government is considering a plan to keep some troops in a remote U.S. base in southeastern Syria to counter Iranian activity, sources tell Foreign Policy.
The al-Tanf garrison, located near Syria’s eastern border with Jordan, was established to help local forces fight the Islamic State militant group. But the base, which sits along a potential Iranian supply route through Iraq to Syria, has also become a critical buttress for combating Iranian influence in the region.
The U.S. presence at the base can do very little do to “combat” Iranian influence. Iran is perfectly capable of bringing in its forces and supplies by air, so the fixation on disrupting a “land bridge” between Iran and Syria makes no sense. At best, U.S. troops are being kept in Syria illegally to serve as little more than an irritant to the Syrian government and its allies. There is no vital U.S. interest at stake in southern Syria that requires or justifies a continued military presence there. Congress hasn’t authorized U.S. forces to do anything in Syria, and there is certainly no authorization to occupy part of Syria with no end in sight. Once again, the administration’s Iran obsession is having a distorting and harmful effect on U.S. foreign policy.
Bloomberg reports on Israel’s role in pressuring the administration to keep troops at the Tanf base:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing his best, and he has the president’s ear, according to one senior U.S. diplomat, who asked not to be named citing confidential discussions. Netanyahu has repeatedly urged the U.S. to keep troops at Al-Tanf, according to several senior Israeli officials, who also asked not to be identified discussing private talks. Even if they don’t do much, the mere presence of American troops will act as a deterrent to Iran, the Israelis say.
Between Israeli pressure and the preferences of the administration’s own Iran hawks, it seems more than likely that the U.S. will have troops in at least one part of Syria for years to come. The illegal war in Syria seems set to drag on, and our soldiers will continue to be put at risk for the sake of a dubious mission that Congress never approved or debated.