US forces plan to stay in Syria "as long as they need to” support local partners and to ensure that terrorists will not return, a Pentagon official told AFP on Tuesday. The announcement comes as the Islamic State has ceased to be a reality, and as the Syrian Army is on the cusp of final victory over ISIS in remaining pockets of eastern Syria.
“We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said. “To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground, or plot external attacks.”
Though officials recently hinted that the Pentagon would soon formally acknowledge that it has "about 2,000" American troops in Syria, the long standing official number of 503 still hasn't changed. In late October a top military official briefly admitted to 4,000 troops on the ground in Syria during an interview, but awkwardly backtracked on his statement and said, “I’m sorry, I misspoke there, there are approximately 500 troops in Syria."
As we reported previously, President Trump has made a point of troop levels needing to be kept secret from “the enemy,” but consistent lies from the Pentagon about their deployments have made the figures less a closely guarded secret than a mockery of transparency.
Perhaps more worrisome is that Pahon further said US troop commitment in Syria would be "conditions-based" - which indicates that the Pentagon has no timeline or near-term plans for exiting Syria, though recent reports suggest that after Raqqa was liberated by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a troop withdrawal of hundreds of Marines may be in progress.
"This is essential to the protection of our homeland as well as to defend our allies and partners... The United States will sustain a 'conditions-based' military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas," Pahon continued.
But all available evidence and the recent history of American action in Syria suggests that the only real reason for open ended commitment in Syria is so that Washington can achieve its own geopolitical goals in the region: to oppose the Damascus government, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. The stated reason of bombing ISIS inside Syria (without Syrian approval, which amounts to an act of aggression in a sovereign state's territory) never had anything to do with some noble-minded goal of defeating terrorism, but was always the Trojan Horse backdoor attempt to defeat the Syria-Iran-Iraq-Hezbollah 'resistance axis' that stretches from Tehran to South Lebanon.
Though American officials have from day one emphasized the short-term and temporary nature of the Pentagon operations, last summer Turkey controversially exposed the locations of 13 US bases in Syria, and the US-backed Syrian YPG had previously indicated seven American military bases in northern Syria. The Pentagon, however, has never confirmed base locations or numbers - though less than two years ago the American public was being assured that there would be "no boots on the ground" due to mission creep in Syria.
During the last year of the Obama administration for example, State Department spokesman John Kirby was called out multiple times by reporters for telling obvious and blatant lies concerning promises of "no boots on the ground" in Syria - something which US officials falsely and consistently claimed. Yet now the American public is being told, with not so much as even the pretense of national or congressional debate, of "commitment on the ground as long as we need to" in Syria.
But we've pointed out the obvious many times before. Whether it's the Middle East, Africa, or Eastern Europe, the familiar pattern of American military expansion goes something like this: first we are promised that US troops are merely in a country for limited "training" missions with "partner" forces; next we are told of "counter-terror" operations which require an increased "footprint"; after which we are assured once again that there are "no boots on the ground" but a "minimal" increase of train and assist missions; finally, US soldiers begin to come home in body bags at which point the 9/11 era AUMF is cynically invoked (Authorization For Use of Military Force).