Implications of the U.S. Pullout from Syria

Implications of the U.S. Pullout from Syria

Mohammed Rizwan

Already wary of United States intentions to pull itself out of post World War network of alliances, the allied world capitals received the news of intended troops withdrawal from Syria with alarm and skepticism. The insurgency in Syria, though waning, is far from over. Assad is still there and there is no sign of a political settlement among the warring parties.

ISIS, though driven out of Syria and on the run, still exists nonetheless. Its war machine is destroyed, hundreds of its fighters are killed or captured and the rest have dissolved into civilian population. However, it is still maintaining a small presence in the Euphrates Valley in Iraq. Consider these facts and you get a picture of a classic US pullout where the troops are home before the job is finished – Afghanistan, Iraq are the recent examples. But maybe it is not true.

A broad look at the entire picture tells that worries on ISIS are mis-placed and pullout. To begin with there are no US troops to pullout. There have been 2000-2500 US military personnel who were advising, coordinating and channelizing the forces aligned with the US in that multi-pronged insurgency. Most of the US personnel were operating out of Kurd control areas and from bases out of Iraq. Most of their operation as and how far we know was directed against ISIS and its infrastructure. The Kurds and other small allied groups did a brilliant job under supervision and now there is little sense in keeping those few personnel over there whose job is done.

As far as the threat of a resurgency and regrouping is concerned, the US air power is still there in the area and its network of local allies is still intact. The US military is based permanently in Iraq and can easily take care of a possible threat in the area. So I think bringing those few advisors and personnel home would not change the equation as far as ISIS is concerned. But why are some US lawmakers and allies in the West are concerned then? The reasons have more to do with optics than the far wider geo-strategic considerations.

The problem is Iranian influence in Syria and Russian presence in the region. Yes, these problems are real and present but just for the argument sake those couple of hundred operative in Syria were no answer or solution to those problems anyway. Russia has announces recently that it is calling its active troops present in Syria home. Iranian proxy Hizbullah is live and operative in the region especially in south Syria and region along Israeli border. But these problems have got to do with containing rising Iranian and Russian challenge in the entire region and not in Syria alone. Though this threat is present in Syria but it can not be solved from within Syrian borders.

Hizbullah and other Iranian proxies can only be sorted out by confining and containing Iranian influence in the region. The threat of Iranian influence is far greater today in Iraq than in Syria. For that to happen the supply line of mother country and proxies will have to be severed. Carrying out localised military operations in Syria is something the US has never done and has no intention of doing that now. The US forces are based there where they were before the start of Syrian conflict. They are in Qatar, they are in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq – almost in entire region so there is no military threat to US interests in the region. Proxy business has to be dealt differently though. One way is to strike where the money and supplies come from and that effort is ongoing, one would reckon.

Same is the case with Russia. It’s not Russian forces in and around Syria that are problem. It’s Russian resurgence and influence in general that is. President Trump’s move to bring Turkey on board to oversee US interests inside Syria is good way to deal with what is happening on ground in Syria, though it will offend Kurds. Russian influence in the region is more to do with hard cash in the pocket that Moscow is getting through energy sales than military. So it will have to be seen in totality rather than through Syrian lens. With most of Russian active troops going back home there won’t be much left to deal with militarily. Things have changed lately as far as US projection of its world power is concerned. Now it’s not about sending troops to conflict and keeping them there, it’s about winning by combining and coordinating military, economic and technological power. – Ends

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