Syria: US may retain 1.000 troops in the region

American press reports on Sunday claimed, three months after the U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement that the American troops will withdraw from Syria, 1.000 U.S. personnel will remain garrisoned in the eastern part of the country.

Before the December 2018 Presidential announcement, Washington had deployed more than 2.000 soldiers in Syria to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces. The main partners supporting the U.S. cause on the ground are the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mostly consisted of Kurdish local militias (YPG). The coalition successfully reclaimed most of Syria’s parts by December and effectively pinned down remaining ISIS forces in the easternmost part of the country, near the city of Hanjin.

Chain Reactions from U.S. Withdrawal Announcement

The December 2018 withdrawal announcement set in motion a chain of events in the region. For its part, Turkey announced the plan to invade north-east Syria and reclaim the territory from YPG militias. Ankara associates the YPG groups with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). PKK is a bitter rival of Turkish security forces, having engaged into a long-drawn round of hostilities, assassinations and armed assaults in the country’s periphery in the past three decades.

The looming Turkish threat to YPG militias facilitated an overture by U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January 2019 reiterated Washington’s support for the YPG forces and mentioned of a garrisoned U.S. force to remain in the region to guarantee the security of all stakeholders involved in the Syrian crisis. Progressively, the U.S. started speaking of establishing a safe zone in the north-eastern part of Syria. Turkey endorsed this claim, opting out for creating a roughly 200-kilometre security perimeter in northern Syria effectively dissociating the territory from the rest of the country.  Kurdish representatives instead called for the construction of a security corridor linking north Syria with South Turkey and supervised by international observers, including the remaining U.S. forces. So far, the Kurdish idea appears to come closer to Washington’s interests in the region than Ankara’s proposal.

Treatment of ISIS Forces

With respect to ISIS remaining forces on the ground, by the beginning of March, almost 60.000 militias have surrendered including 5.000 foreign fighters arriving at Syria from 41 different countries to fight alongside ISIS forces. Of them, 1.000 are European citizens who are mostly unwelcome back in their homelands and represent a huge political and security challenge for the international community. The removal of their nationality statuses infers they risk becoming non-state-attached populations. Besides these numbers, there are also approximately 10.000 dormant ISIS soldiers in the region which have temporarily found refuge in local communities in the region. These developments constitute reasonable the decision to leave 1.000 garrisoned U.S. troops in the region to act simultaneously as suppressors of remaining ISIS forces and watchdogs of peace among rival stakeholders in the Syrian crisis.

The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford openly refuted media reports about the thousand men mission remaining in Syria. Still, the U.S. forces have undertaken to train approximately 40.000 troops of indigenous militias in the region and so far less than 15.000 forces have received adequate tuition. Further, in theory, the U.S. presence in the region could be further diminished by the deployment of European forces which also number roughly 1.000 fighters in total. In any case, both creating new army regiments in the region or deploying additional forces represent more costly practices than retaining on the ground existing forces.

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