U.S. Forces Role and Importance in Syria

Photo Credits: AFP

Nearly six years after the declaration of the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the continued presence of U.S. Forces in Syria reflects the importance of this region and its link to the interests of the United States of America, but the rare state of military movements carried out by the U.S. Forces in Syria underlines the American desire not to intervene militarily in the political situation of the country. The U.S. Forces avoid strong responses to the provocations of hostile forces such as the Syrian regime’s army, or Iranian and Russian forces located near those bases.

Questions have to be asked about the apparent and hidden reasons for the continued presence of U.S. Forces in Syria, as well as their importance in achieving political and military balance with other forces hostile to them, and the services that these forces can provide to Israel.

With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and increasing tensions between the West and Russia, analyses predicted that Syria would turn into another arena for a conflict between Russia and the US. But despite the decline in the Russian military presence and operations in Syria, in addition to Russia’s transfer of some of its forces to the northeast of Syria in the area belonging to the Kurdish Protection Units supported by the U.S. there is no increasing tensions between the two super powers.

U.S. Forces have been stationed in Syria since 2015, and today there are still about 900 U.S. troops deployed to the area known as the “Eastern Syria Security Zone.” Those forces, along with around 2,500 military personnel stationed in Iraq, are ostensibly part of the international coalition to defeat the extremist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS).” But given the significant deterioration of the Islamic State’s power and capabilities, some Americans are skeptical about the U.S. Syrian policy.

Stated Reasons for the staying of U.S. Forces

U.S. Policy in Syria is focused on three specific goals related to Syria policy, according to Atlantic council on January 21, 2022:

  1. Maintain an explicit U.S. military presence to prevent the re-emergence of ISIS.
  2. Maintain a local ceasefire and contribute to the reduction of violence.
  3. Improving humanitarian conditions

These goals do not constitute a policy aimed at influencing the course of the conflict in Syria or finding a political solution that guarantees U.S. interests, which could lead to the growing power of its rivals, especially Russia and Iran.

As for the goal of eliminating ISIS, it is clear that the radical Islamic elements of ISIS have not been completely eliminated, yet it no longer represents the threat it once was. But the political and economic insecurity in northeastern Syria, especially in the areas controlled by Kurdish forces also has significant consequences. In addition, the relationship between Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish authorities of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria remains tense, affecting the fate of millions of Syrians in the region. The insecure environment represents suitable conditions for a potential comeback of ISIS in the region within the upcoming years. The constant and increasing Turkish threat to control Kurdish areas in North Eastern Syria affects the security of those areas as well. Türkiye’s rapprochement with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will likely be at the expense of the Kurdish issue and may lead to scenarios that could weaken Washington’s most important Kurdish ally in Syria.

Observers argue that while a negative U.S. presence could cause broader political gains and regional stability, narrowing the goal of a military presence in the campaign against ISIS would lead to unsatisfying scenarios. Russia and Iran are therefore likely to continue to challenge U.S. influence, especially at a time when partners such as the Kurds are skeptical of Washington’s commitment. Moscow is striving to position itself as a mediator and guarantor of the status quo, which could eventually lead to a warming of its relations with the Kurdish leadership in Syria. Russia and Iran may continue to impose costs on U.S. forces to push the United States toward leaving. In 2020, Russian forces twice clashed with U.S. military patrols in northeastern Syria, injuring four U.S. soldiers.

Throughout 2021, Iran-linked militias launched three attacks in the gray zone on strategic U.S. positions in Syria, using missiles and drones, and by the beginning of this year U.S. military advisers and their Syrian allies were targeted, with eight batches of indirect fire on their base known as the “Green Village” in eastern Syria by Iranian-backed factions, CNN reported on January 5, 2022. The second goal of the U.S. government in Syria is to maintain the current domestic ceasefire, and it is unclear how Washington will achieve it.

The U.S. military presence has played a role in stabilizing the northeast of the country, by supporting the SDF. The truth is that what remains of a formal and informal domestic ceasefire throughout Syria is the result of interest-driven security arrangements involving Russia, Iran, and Turkey. The United States have not tried to engage in such agreements and have been left excluded from almost all of them, according to the website (atlantic council) on January 21, 2022.

The Biden management is deeply unwilling to use more military tools in Syria to achieve its goals, despite declaring that U.S. forces are remaining in Syria to counter ISIS. The lacking interest of Washington to put military resources into the U.S. forces in Syria makes those units less influential.

Over the past few months, military operations were targeting U.S. forces in Syria, which are stationed within the Kurdish-controlled area and in the al-Tanf area, which sits on a strategic road linking Tehran to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. Thus, the base is seen as part of the larger U.S. strategy to contain Iranian military influence in the region.

The increased attacks are aimed at pushing U.S. forces out of Syria, where the U.S. presence is at odds with Iranian interests, and U.S. forces have reportedly been attacked once a month, since June 2021—an unprecedented rate in the history of U.S. operations in Syria. Other attacks are suspected of being linked to nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran taking place in Vienna, according to the Indian website Times Now on January 17, 2022.

However, the U.S. response to those strikes has been very modest, and a U.S. military source said future conflicts in the region are expected to be in the “gray zone,” where campaigns move away from direct war.

Both Russia and Iran say that they sent armies to Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, while Turkey justifies its military operations inside Syria, with the Adana Agreement, signed on October 20, 1998, which dealt with the issue of the Kurds and the PKK war, and this agreement gives Turkey the right to take all necessary security measures inside Syrian territory at a depth of 5 km if the Syrian government fails to control the movements of the Kurdish Workers’ Party on the border.

All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.