The Syrian quagmire


With American troops and military installations spread on all seven continents, the critical importance of only 2,000 troops in Syria would seem Liliputian. But their disposition has received from world media the last few days.

President Donald K. Troop announced last Dec. 19, American forces would be leaving Syria, apparently immediately, after the utter defeat of the local caliphate. An Islamic state under the leadership of a Muslim steward with the title of caliph, considered a religious and political successor to Islam’s founder, Mohammed, had been founded with its its capital at Raqqa, in northern Syria. But with its territory largely lost, Washington’s strategy no longer demanded U.S. forces on the ground. It was suggested that the chaotic civil war within the country and the ability of U.S. troops in northern Iraq – who had been with withdrawn earlier under President Barack Obama and then returned – could handle any situation.

Trump gave American forces 30 days to leave Syria. But the local Kurds who had done most of the fighting with the Americans appealed to the Syrian government for help to secure a key northern city, Manbij, to guard against any Turkish offensive. That was because in the checkerboard of ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East, the Kurds in Turkey – with no history of a state of their own but spread throughout the region –at about 14 million, out of 77.8 million — have supported an armed revolt for more autonomy or independence against Ankara since the 1960s.

Syrian government forces could be seen taking up arms inside northern Syria last week, but, later pulled out “in order to avoid any frictions” with U.S. forces in their alliance with local Kurds. The defeat of ISIS signaled long term weaknesses First, it needed continual conquest to succeed: victory was a clear sign that the group was doing God’s work. But once it occupied its Sunni-dominated heartlands, further expansion was unlikely. If it was easy to sweep aside a border of a shattered state such as Syria, but stronger states such as Turkey, Israel and Jordan were different. There was no way ever Isis, a Sunni Arab Muslim force, was going to fight its way deep into Shia-dominated central and southern Iraq.

Second, its violent intolerance of dissent and brutality was one reason for the rapid expansion Sunni tribal leaders and other power brokers in Iraq and Syria who could see significant advantages in accepting the group’s authority. But in 2015, with a weakened ISIS unable to offer anything other than violence, defections rapidly snowballed. The old legendary collective yearning to restore the military, political and technological superiority over the West enjoyed by Islamic powers a millennium ago – or the conviction that the end of times was near – proved insufficient to convince communities to fight and die for Isis. In the very end, for example, the hospital and stadium in Raqqa were defended by foreign Isis fighters with Syrian militants surrendering days before.

In his earlier withdrawal announcement, Trump declared Isis “defeated”. But in his apparent reversal, he said U.S. troops would now be pulled out “slowly” and that they would be fighting remaining Isis militants. He had been under severe criticism from American military and even Republican Congressional leaders for these earlier withdrawal statements, some arguing Trump refuses to see the continuing threat of radical Islam which they compare to the long fight against Communism.

U.S. ground troops first became involved in Syria in autumn 2015 when then-President Barack Obama sent in a small number of Special Forces to train and advise local Kurdish fighters. The U.S. did this reluctantly after several attempts at arming anti-Isis groups descended chaotically. Over intervening years U.S. troops in Syria increased, and a network of bases and airstrips has been established in an arc across the north-east. These have been part of an international coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS, while also targeting Syrian government bases in retaliation for suspected war crimes involving chemical weapons.

The earlier withdrawal statement had shocked U.S. allies and American defense officials alike, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a top U..S official in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) group, Brett McGurk, resigning soon after.  In riposte, Trump lashed out at retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal with a string of personal attacks after the former leader of U.S. operations in Afghanistan called the president “immoral” and dishonest. He has questioned Trump’s decision to send troops to the southern border and has expressed concern over the president’s repeated criticism of former military leaders, such as retired Adm. William McRaven.

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