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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. will stay in Syria indefinitely as Trump approves new policy

By Ken Hanly     Sep 7, 2018 in Politics
Just five months ago Trump said that he wanted to get out. He has now completely changed his tune and approved a new strategy that allows for an indefinitely extended military stay in Syria.
Senior State Department officials claim Trump agrees to new policy
The new policy also includes extended diplomatic and economic efforts in Syria according to the State Department officials. Back in December of 2016 with Obama as president US troops were sent to Syria with the rationale they would be fighting ISIS. However, ISIS is almost defeated although there are still many other radical jihadists among the rebels some with links to Al Qaeda.
Most of remaining rebels are in Idlib province
Although the province is filled with rebels many of whom were able to travel there when they surrendered their territory to the Assad forces there are also a large number of civilians who have fled from battles in other areas of Syria.
Former Al Nusra group wields considerable power in the province
Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as the Al Nusra Front that had ties to Al Qaeda detained members of the Ahmad al-Abdo Brigade rebel group associated with the Free Syrian army (FSA). HTS has launched several raids against groups and individuals who promote reconciliation. It has arrested dozens of fighters and others. The raid on the Ahmad al-Abdo Brigade was sparkd by rumours that the group would seek a reconciliation agreement with the Syrian Army before the Idlib offensive began.
The new goals of the US in Syria
The campaign against ISIS in Syria is almost complete so the US is providing new reasons for keeping troops there. New goals include the exit of all Iranian and proxy forces from Syria and the establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.
The proxy forces surely also include many of the rebel groups who could not exist without financial and arms support from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and the US and many other countries. No government that is created will probably be acceptable to all Syrians. While some countries support the Syrian National Council politically the Assad regime is regarded legally as the government of Syria and has a seat in the UN. Some countries such as Iran and Russia and no doubt others already find Syria acceptable under Assad. Does the regime need to be acceptable to the US, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia?
No doubt one could say that most of the international community do not find the North Korean regime acceptable nor Myanmar but they are still recognized as legitimate countries and are within the UN.
The new policy
James Jeffrey, Secretary of State's Mike Pompeo's representative for Syria engagement said: “The new policy is we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year.” There are about 2,200 US troops in Syria most in the eastern third of the country and supposedly mostly devoted to war against ISIS although some critics maintain that the remaining ISIS fighters are mostly in areas controlled by the US.
Jeffrey claims that the US forces are in Syria not just to ensure the defeat of the Islamic State but to ensure that Iranian depart from Syria. It is not at all clear how they will be able to do that. This policy appears to be in support of Israel which has attacked Syria numerous times with the target often Hezbollah but Iranians as well. Jeffreys said that he was sure that Trump was on board with this more active approach.
Although he did not describe any new military mission he said there would be major diplomatic initiatives at the UN and also the use of economic tools presumably more sanctions on Russia and Iran. The US also refuses to fund reconstruction in Assad-controlled areas. This shows the lack of humanitarian concern for the many Syrians who have remained in areas under control of Assad. The US is quite willing to leave them to suffer and not help out with reconstruction.
The Idlib confrontation
Idlib province is the last large area controlled by the rebels. Many rebels from other areas have come to Idlib from other battle zones where they have lost. There are about 70,000 opposition fighters in all and about 2 million Syrian civilians mostly displaced from other areas. There are also some Turkish military forces in Idlib who pushed back Syrian Kurds from the border.
Assad says he is preparing a final offensive in the province and Russia has already been bombing the region. The US and others are warning against a humanitarian disaster with many civilians being killed. Trump himself has threatened US retaliation if there is an all-out offensive.
The US Is now taking a harder line
Jeffrey said: “Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation. You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refugee flows or attack innocent civilians..the consequences of that are that we will shift our positions and use all of our tools to make it clear that we’ll have to find ways to achieve our goals that are less reliant on the goodwill of the Russians.”
The chemical weapons issue
The Russians have long warned that the rebels are planning to stage a chemical attack so that the Assad regime will be punished by western air-strikes. Of course this is mostly written off in the western press as Russian propaganda. We are told that there is no evidence at all that the rebels have such capacity.
The US counters that they now have proof that Assad is preparing to use chemical weapons in Idlib. These reports do not ask why Assad would do such a thing given that he is certain to face more punishment this time. Assad has won back most of his territory. He does not need to use a weapon that will ensure he is attacked and punished for doing so.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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