US Bases to Stay in Syria as Brakes on Russian-Iranian Schemes

The Trump administration is actively drawing up American plans for post-war Syria and Bashar Assad’s future political role there. The US force currently deployed to Syria will stay there for the triple goals of heading off a consolidated Syrian-Iranian presence, protecting a new pro-US autonomous region for Kurds and other minorities and combating ISIS.

Approximately 2,000 US Special Operations troops serve in Syria at present at 10 locations, two airbases and eight military points in Kurdish dominated areas from Ayn Dadad in the west to Rmeilin in the east.

The administration’s charge of course in favor of keeping US troops at their current bases as part of an international coalition, was presented this week by US officials to friends from Europe and Asia when they sat down at the White House to hammer out shared plans for Syria’s future.

President Donald Trump made this decision because he began to question Vladimir Putin’s good faith when he promised collaboration with the US as his first priority and the containment of Iran’s consolidation in Syria. Trump is now bent on heading off Russian-Iranian schemes for Syria and challenging Putin’s domination of the Syria’s political transition with an American blueprint and a US-led coalition.

That blueprint is still a work in progress was indicated by the diverse statements issued by US State Department and Pentagon sources on Monday, Jan. 8:

“We support the territorial integrity of Syria and a unified and democratic Syria in which the rights of all groups are protected. The future of Syria is to be decided by Syrians, consistent with the political transition and election process enshrined in UN SCR 2254 ” said the State Department, and continued: “We would urge all Syrian parties to work together in a manner consistent with 2254 in order to advance the UN-led political process.”

The Pentagon was a lot blunter:

“The US Defense Department emphasized that the US-led coalition, known officially as Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) will continue. The Syrian regime continues to prove it is incapable of preventing [ISIS] from using Syria as a safe haven and plotting attacks against the US homeland.”

According to DEBKA Weekly’s Washington sources, the Trump Administration’s has set itself three primary goals in post-war Syria.

  1. A large area in northern Syria extending east of the River Euphrates, will be placed under the rule of America’s ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is dominated by Kurdish militias, including the YPG. It will spread across an area three times that of Lebanon.
    Saudi official sources calculated this week that this chunk of territory will cover 28,000-sq. km. Its recognition by the US (under a still undetermined measure of self-rule) will go forward after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sends over US liaison officers to work with the local authorities and the US units based there.
  2. The SDF has already conducted elections for local councils under US auspices and protection. Each is led by members of the minority constituting a majority in their respective region. The United States will help train government officials and back projects for reconstruction, improving public services and repairing infrastructure. The American military detachment will also engage in the upkeep of its bases.
  3. A new North Syrian army will be established and assigned with border security duties under American military supervision. It will draw on SDF units, which are a conglomerate of Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Assyrian and Turkman fighters, whom the US trained for intensive combat operations, including spearheading the war on ISIS, during the war years.

In the eyes of Damascus, Tehran and Ankara, the Trump administration’s plan is viewed as a scheme to carve out an independent, pro-American republic in northern Syria to contain the country’s minority populations. US sources deny this saying its purpose is to strengthen local government by minorities in their largest population centers, as an obstacle against Islamic State jihadists returning to their lairs.

Heads of the Assad regime don’t believe a word of this explanation. They insist the American presence must end in all parts of the country, including the Kurdish regions, because it violates Syrian territorial integrity and is illegal. This view is strongly endorsed by Moscow.

By sponsoring local elections in the projected new territory, the Trump administration has gained an edge for its plans for post-war Syria in the face of the Moscow’s initiatives. The measure of autonomy afforded the territory and its final shape will no doubt be determined in negotiations with the Russians, along with Assad’s future and a decision on his successor. But for now, Washington has made it clear that it will remain in Syria both militarily and politically and Russia will no longer be able to ignore the US as a partner in its plans for the political process, reconstruction and military footholds after the war ends in Syria.

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