Are We Coming or Going in Syria

Syria Sitrep – Trump Says U.S. Will Leave But Pentagon Keeps Adding Forces

February 04, 2019

The U.S. retreat from northeast Syria is still not happening. In yesterdays interview with CBS President Trump again said the troops would leave, but the the Pentagon is doing the opposite of retreating.

(not current) biggerThe Islamic State forces north of the Euphrates are left to holding some 4 square kilometer of ground near the border to Iraq. The few hundred ISIS fighters still alive could be killed in a day or two which would then be the right time for the U.S. to leave as President Trump announced two month ago.

But the U.S. military keeps increasing its troop numbers and supplies in the area. During the last two month the number of U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria rose by nearly 50%. Instead of the officially acknowledged 2,000 there are now at least 3,000 U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria. New weapons and equipment arrive every day. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory reports, the U.S. is bringing in a significant number of TOW anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns even though there is no longer an apparent use for these:

[T]he International Coalition Forces brought quantities of anti-armor thermal missiles during the recent period, to their bases east of Euphrates area, in conjunction with bringing quantities of machineguns known as “DShK”, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that the range of the missiles reaches about 6 km, but the reasons for bringing these weapons was not known, especially as the “Islamic State” Organization in its last pocket at the east bank of Euphrates River is almost ended, ..

[T]he Syrian Observatory has documented since the US president’s decision to withdraw until the 3rd of February 2018, the entry of 1130 trucks at least, carrying equipment, ammunition, weapons, military, and logistic equipment to bases of the International Coalition east of Euphrates, ..

The process of entering the trucks also comes in conjunction with the arrival of hundreds of soldiers of the US Special Forces to the Syrian territory in a specific and special operation, the goal of which is to arrest the remaining leaders and members of the “Islamic State” Organization who are trapped in the remaining 4 kilometers for it east of Euphrates, ..

Today the New York Times finally confirms the increased troop numbers the Observatory reported weeks ago:

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, officials said on Sunday. The number of American troops in Syria has actually increased in recent weeks to more than 3,000 — a standard practice to bring in additional security and logistics troops temporarily to help protect and carry out the process of pulling out — three Defense Department officials said.

The explanation makes little sense. One does not need 1,000 additional troops to secure and remove the stocks of a 2,000 strong force deployment in mostly friendly territory.

The NYT also reveals that the U.S. wants to led the Kurdish PKK keep the arms it received:

A meeting in late January of the National Security Council’s “deputies committee” — the No. 2 leaders of national security departments and agencies — recommended allowing the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to keep the equipment the Pentagon has provided them and for an American-led air campaign to continue airstrikes to defend them against the Islamic State, according to two senior American officials.

This breaks a promise the U.S. repeatedly made to Turkey and gives Ankara more reasons to threaten the Kurds.

On Saturday a U.S. air attack targeted a Syrian army position south of the Euphrates near the border town al-Bukamal:

A military source told SANA that the U.S.-led coalition warplanes carried out an air strike overnight Saturday on Syrian artillery position in Sokkariyeh village, west of al-Bukamal city.The source added that the attack resulted in destroying the artillery and injuring two soldiers.

SANA reporter said that, in parallel with the coalition’s aggression, Daesh terrorists attacked military points in the area, but the army units repelled the attack and killed and wounded most of the attacking terrorists.

This is one of several incidents that lets one assume that the U.S. intentionally lets some ISIS fighters escape to bother the Syrian government.

The U.S. military says it fears the ISIS would regrow should U.S. troops retreat. But that argument only holds when no other troops would replace them. The only viable solution to handle northeast Syria after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State is obviously to ask the Syrian government to retake control of its land. It could defeat remaining Islamic State sleeper cells, handle the prisoners the Kurds have taken,  and keep the YPK/PKK and Turkey apart. But the U.S. foreign policy borg is still unwilling to concede that.

James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to ‘protect the Kurds’ and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops.

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 – 17:33 utc – 24 Jan 2019The Jeffrey plan being carried to Ankara/Rojava is very complex, requires open-ended commitments from UK-France, Turkish patrols in rural areas, SDF acquiescence, 3rd party forces, and US top cover, perhaps including a US enforced NFZ (unclear if POTUS is on board with this bit)

A week after that tweet the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failedto win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides.

No news has been released of any different scheme. The YPK/PKK Kurds the U.S. used as proxy force against the Islamic State recently lobbied in Washington to keep some U.S. troops in the area:

The group’s message to Washington policymakers has centered around slowing the US withdrawal, and stopping Turkish plans to police a safe zone on the border of northern Syria, which the SDC sees as a potentially deadly repeat of the 2018 incursion into the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.

The lobbying effort is likely to fail.

The Kurds still demand a substantial autonomy in exchange for letting the Syrian army retake the control of the northeast. Damascus rejects any local autonomy that goes beyond cultural rights. The teaching of a Kurdish language in local schools will be allowed, but there will be no separate Kurdish administration. As the alternatives fail to evolve the Kurds will soon have to choose between agreeing to Damascus’ conditions or getting slaughtered by a Turkish invasion force.

Meanwhile Russia is working to reestablish the Adana Memorandum of 1998 between Turkey and Syria. In it Syria promised to hinder all Kurdish attacks from Syria on Turkey, while Turkey promised to refrained from anti-Kurdish engagements on Syrian grounds. The reviving of the agreement would require that Turkey gives up on the parts of Syria its forces and currently occupy and continue to turkify. There are already low level contacts between Turkey and Syria on the ground, but the Turkish President Erdogan is not yet willing to go further. A new meeting in the Astana format between Turkey, Russia and Iran is supposed to take place on February 14. It might come up with a new solution.

In his Sunday interview with CBS President Trump again explained his position on the retreat. Asked about concern that the defeated ISIS might rise again should the U.S. move out he responded:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know what we’ll do? We’ll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes. We have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean, I was there recently. And I couldn’t believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these– I’ve– I’ve rarely seen anything like it. And it’s there. And we’ll be there. And, frankly, we’re hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria. Now the other thing after this–

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