National Interest: Isn’t it time to return from Syria?


900 American soldiers are stationed in Syria without a strategic purpose or authorization from Congress, according to writer Bree Megivern in the National Interest.

US military personnel in the Middle East are of no use, however, in December 2023, 84 senators voted to keep these individuals there because a decrease in the number of US forces in the Middle East could be a gift to Iran.

In early December, Republican Senator Rand Paul, introduced a bill to withdraw 900 US troops from Syria amid a barrage of drone attacks in Iraq, Syria and Jordan by Iranian-backed militias.

Nearly a month after that vote, a drone attack on US Base 22 in Jordan killed three US service members and injured dozens of others.

After the deadly attack on January 28, the Biden administration found itself trying to balance an impossible scale.

How can it meet political pressures without inadvertently escalating tensions into a regional conflict?

On the surface, withdrawing US troops due to growing instability seems counterintuitive, but the issue of troop reductions is emblematic of a larger problem.

The soldiers were initially deployed to the site without congressional authorization and were stationed there long after their original military mission had been completed.

The US presence in Syria is part of the US-led coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve, which began in 2014 to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but Congress did not approve Operation Inherent Resolve because the Obama administration relied on the authorization to use military force as a legal justification.

By bypassing Congress, the Obama administration circumvented congressional oversight mechanisms and a framework that might have established clearer guidelines for the conclusion of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Since the SDF regained control of Baghouz in 2019, the United States has declared the defeat of ISIS but has taken no steps to reduce the troop presence.

Operation Inherent Resolve remains active, but instead of fighting to reclaim ISIS-controlled territory, the mission has shifted to the broader goal of ensuring the permanent defeat of ISIS.

The United States has a mechanism to direct the SDF to counter ISIS activities, the Counter-ISIS Training and Equipping Fund (CTEF), a program approved by Congress in 2014 to train, advise, and fund Syrian and Iraqi security forces.

This notable redundancy raises the question of whether forces deployed under Operation Inherent Resolve are necessary to prevent an immediate ISIS resurgence, or whether a gradual reduction of forces coupled with continued support to CTEF will be equally effective.

Although the presence of US forces initially provided stability against the ISIS threat, the continued presence presents an opportunity for local militia groups to target Americans.

On February 14, the United Arab Emirates imposed restrictions aimed at preventing the United States from launching retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian proxies from US military bases in the Emirates.

With relations between the United States and partner countries in the Middle East strained by the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and Iranian-backed militias targeting US forces, it’s time for the Biden administration and members of Congress to ask themselves whether the current troop presence is worth the loss of more American lives, while also risking a broader war in the Middle East.

Moreover, the Department of Defense must reevaluate the objectives and scope of its ongoing troop deployments to the Middle East.

Even if continued cooperation with partner security forces is necessary to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, the Biden administration should consider options that avoid requiring US forces to dodge missile and drone attacks far from home.

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