The president’s call to begin the withdrawal of American troops from Syria and “green light” the Turkish invasion (a term invented by the press) will effectively turn over the now two-plus year deployment in Syria to a NATO ally, Turkey. While Turkey is an imperfect ally, it is a powerful regional actor best suited to dealing with the Syrian quagmire on its own border. The small U.S. “base,” consisting of a contingent of fewer than 200 American soldiers, is indefensible and surrounded by myriad forces including Syrian army, assorted Kurdish fighters (composed of groups that we think we know, and many who we don’t know), the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Quds forces, and PMU militias. Russian “advisors” also operate unopposed inside Syria. There are so many competing groups and rivalries inside Syria that the U.S. combat forces and CIA still do not have an accurate grasp of who is who. The president is not going to wait for a truck bomb to flatten the Syria base that at the outset of the operational deployment he told the Pentagon not to build.
While there are estimated to be about 200 combat troops in Syria, the exact number has not been released by the Pentagon. This morning there are indications that as few as 25 U.S. troops are being moved out of an area along the Turkish/Syrian border. The draw down may actually be a tactical realignment of forces versus a mass exit, as other reporting would lead you to believe. The president told the Pentagon at the beginning of the Syria deployment to get ISIS elimination done and withdraw. He expressly said he did not want to expand the war into yet another country, with another deployment rotation requirement. This was a sound decision, with a timeline. When he announced the withdrawal last week, the Pentagon leaked that they were blindsided by the decision. However, they shouldn’t have been surprised given the president’s express instructions regarding the timeline and deployment parameters at the outset of the Syrian operation. Now that he is preventing “mission creep,” and the establishment of yet another indefensible Forward Operating Base, the Pentagon screams foul and states they were blindsided. While the military establishment is probably disappointed, they cannot legitimately claim that they were unaware of the president’s intentions.
One would hope that over the past two years, the CIA has been recruiting unilateral assets and setting up stay-behind networks, and building capacity inside Syria for long-term policy support and intelligence collection required to sustain a long-term covert action program. CIA networks coupled to a robust foreign intel program would vastly reduce the loss of American lives and the unsustainable financial burn rate of U.S. troop deployments in theater. Has this planning and deployment taken place?
The president made a pledge to the American people to end these wars. After three years of dealing with the Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department, what does he see? In Afghanistan we are entering year 18 of rotational deployments. In Iraq, we are in year 15 year of rotational deployments. There have been two years of rotational deployments in Syria, with limited success, but now there is a stalemate. Stalemate in war is bad news. Compounding the endless deployment cycle and the continued casualties of our killed and wounded is the grossly unsustainable $1.1 billion weekly burn rate it costs to maintain on the ground operations in the region. What is the operational outcome we are seeking in all three of these conflict zones? What are we sacrificing our blood and treasure to achieve?
Both ISIS and Al Qaeda have morphed into a rough coalition largely funded and controlled by Iran. Both groups, severely weakened, have evolved into a tool for Iran. Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are ALL strategic operational areas for Iran. Unlike the U.S., Iran has no trouble understanding who the players are in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have penetrated their every group. They are part of the government fabric in Syria and Iraq. Iran medically treats and rehabilitates more ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters than any other country. They are assisting in the movement, retraining and resupply of ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters to Afghanistan and all the way to central Africa.
To support this massive covert effort, Iran operates 11 border crossings inside southern Iraq. They have built a logistics pipeline that links southern Iran all the way to Damascus. This trucking route moves materials and men across Iraq from Basra, all the way to Syria. They operate inside Iraq unopposed. The U.S. has no presence south of Baghdad.
To turn a phrase, these inconvenient truths on the ground support the president’s hard decision to pull back from Syria. The U.S. tier one forces maintain significant airlift and strike capability securely an hour away inside Iraq. We can see what is going on in Syria. Much has been said by the pundits that Turkey is going to invade and overrun the Syrian Kurds, our wonderful ally. If this happens, POTUS has said he will crush Turkey’s economy. I’m inclined to take him at his word.