Top 5 Reasons Why USA is still in Syria

The U.S. intervened in Syria in 2014 to fight against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. USA carried out Operation Inherent Resolve, which was aimed at combating and eradicating the Islamic State from the world. The USA sided with the Syrian Democratic Forces or the SDF and the Syrian rebels who were fighting against Bashar al-Assad. But this is not the only reason why the USA is in Syria. There is so much more to the story. 

A Brief History of Why the USA is in Syria

The Arab Spring in the Middle East led to the start of the Civil War in 2011. President Barack Obama, President of the USA at that time placed several sanctions against Syria. Moreover, he authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare and train rebels. 

Fast-forward to 2017, the USA, along with its partners, targeted the Government of Syria and its allies. Through airstrikes and fighter pilots, they defended the SDF and the revolutionary forces against Syrian aggression. On 7th April 2017, the USA attacked the Syrian government of Syria forces for the first time. Many other direct military actions soon followed. 

Later in 2018, Donald Trump indicated that he planned to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria so that they could oust the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Soon after, President Trump pulled back around 2,500 American troops from Syria. Since this was a unilateral move, sense soon prevailed and the USA decided to opt for a partial withdrawal and kept 400 of his troops in the country. 

As of 2019, the USA has gone back to its promise of withdrawing forces and currently, there are around 900 US soldiers who operate in Syria. But this begs the question: Why the USA is in Syria? And why does it refuse to exit? Find all about it here. 

Where Are The USA Forces Deployed In Syria?

There are still 900 U.S. soldiers deployed in Syria. The location varies according to the situation on the ground. However, most of the USA’s soldiers are located in Northeastern Syria, such as in Raqqa and Hassakeh province. 

Moreover, the USA also controls the AL-Tanf base. This is the place where Jordan, Iraq, and Syrian borders meet and has some significant trade routes. The USA has established a de-conflict zone here to prevent the forces from the three countries from fighting each other. 

Five Reasons Why the USA is in Syria

The USA is in Syria to eradicate ISIS’s presence from the country and the world, thus promoting regional stability. Additionally, the USA provides the most amount of humanitarian aid to Syria and is fighting to control the spread of chemical weapons in the region. We have explained these reasons in detail here. 

1. To Eradicate ISIS and Counter-Terrorist Elements

ISIS elements have been active in the country since 2012. The USA is fighting alongside other countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to eliminate ISIS. The group has seized large portions of Syria and continues to terrorize the locals and the civilians. The USA supports the local Arab and Kurdish forces and the SDF against the Syrian government and the terrorist elements. 

2. To Maintain Regional Stability

The conflict in Syria has led to massive destruction of land and property. It has resulted in regional tensions between the Middle Eastern countries and caused massive displacement. Countries like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are active members of the conflict. The presence of the USA acts as a deterrent and does not allow for a power vacuum to exist. Moreover, it prevents risk escalation between countries like Iraq and Jordan. 

3. To Assist with Humanitarian Aid

According to the official website of the USA, the USA is the number one provider of humanitarian aid to Syria. The conditions in Syria are dire with millions of people suffering from mass displacement, hunger, poverty, and illness. The USA provides medical supplies, food, and shelter to Syrians, thus guarding them against extreme forms of violence at the hands of the warring forces. 

4. To Retain Geopolitical Influence

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the USA wants to dominate the status quo and show its presence in all important regions of the world. The Middle East is of paramount importance to the USA because of its trade routes, its closeness to the USA’s arch nemesis, China, and its abundance of oil and gas supplies. By controlling the situation on the ground, the USA becomes an important stakeholder in any situation that arises in Syria. 

5. Control of Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons have excessively been used in the Syrian conflict. The 2013 attack on Ghouta raised serious international concerns and alerted world powers who wanted to limit the spread of these weapons. The USA wants to impose international norms and take military action against anyone using these weapons. This stance underscores the importance of non-proliferation efforts and upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention.

What Do The Experts Say In Regard To Why The USA Is In Syria?

The White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, said that the USA is in Syria because of 4 main reasons. These include a desire to reduce violence in the area, to maintain pressure on ISIL, to support Israel against Lebanon, and to aid the Syrian people and provide humanitarian aid to them. 

Moreover, Mzahem Alsaloum, a Syrian Analyst, is of the view that the top reason why the USA is in Syria is because they want to pressure ISIL and limit its presence in the country. Additionally, the USA wants to support Israel by limiting Lebanon. He said: “If the Iranians took al-Tanf, there would be a direct link between Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus.” and USA certainly does not want that. 

Is This an Illegal War?

The presence of the USA in Syria is often considered to be illegal. Although the USA claims that it is acting in self-defense and primarily exists in Syria for humanitarian reasons, nothing can be farther from the truth. The USA does not have direct authorization from either the United Nations or the government of Syria.

Critics argue that since there is no legal foundation for why the US is in Syria, the war becomes illegal. On the other hand, US officials argue that their attempts fall within the context of counterterrorism and help maintain regional peace. Moreover, they argue that combating ISIS is integral as without US involvement there will have a trickle-down effect and terrorism will expand the Syrian boundary.

The Role of Iran in Why the USA is in Syria

The U.S.A. feels threatened by Tehran’s political influence in the region. Iran’s militia strength is another worrisome factor. Ever since the USA defeated the Islamic State group, Iran has expanded its influence in Syria through its fighters. 

Iran is also supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon. It frequently sends weapons into the region, thus helping Lebanon fight against Israel, a supporter of the USA. As America wants to limit Lebanon and Iran’s presence in the region, it continues to be present in the Syrian war. 

For instance, the al-Tanf base in the southeast of Syria is positioned along an important road. This road could connect groups supported by Iran all the way from Tehran to southern Lebanon, which is quite close to Israel. So, the soldiers at the U.S. base can stop what might otherwise be a clear path that Iran could use to reach the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

Who Is Pushing Against The USA’s Presence In Syria?

While US policymakers boast about their continued presence in Syria and claim that the country is helping Syrians come out of poverty, the reality on the ground is quite different. The Syrian government is not happy with the USA’s presence in the region and has frequently demanded the USA withdraw its forces indefinitely. 

Additionally, Russia, an arch-rival of the USA and also an old superpower, also wants the USA to leave. Turkey is also against the USA’s presence in the region. Turkey believes that the USA is supporting the YPG, an organization designated as ‘terrorists’ by the Turkish government. 

How Long will USA forces stay in Syria?

Every month or so, there is a new congressman or politician making false promises. Numerous presidents, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have promised to pull out the American forces from Syria. However, none have kept their promise. 

Recently, the US government has reiterated its desire to retain its military presence in Syria. Some officials told Al-Jazeera that the SDF has been given repeated reassurances that the USA would not pull out its forces. They have also confirmed that they would not make the same mistake as they did in Afghanistan. 

According to another popular Syrian Analyst, the USA presence in al-Tanf and Syria needs to be assessed separately. “In regard to al-Tanf, if there is a serious nuclear deal agreement, or if there is a deal in regard to the US hostages held by the Syrian regime, the withdrawal may be on the table,” Alsaloum also said “As for [northeastern Syria], there may be a withdrawal if the Republicans come to power – if Trump returns, there may be surprises.”

Us-Syria Over The Years: A Timeline Of USA Presence In Syria

To understand why the USA is in Syria, one has to understand why the USA has been in Syria since 2014. Here is the timeline of what transpired in recent years. 

1. 2014

The USA, along with some partner nations, carried out airstrikes in Syria. President Barack Obama also gave the orders for the Tomahawk missiles. Some partner nations that coordinated with the UNCENTCOM included Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These airstrikes targeted around 20 locations for ISIL, mainly the towns of Raqqa and Tabqa. 

2. 2015

From 2014-2015, the USA, along with its coalition partners, carried out 70 rounds of airstrikes in and around Kobani. 12 ISIL buildings were destroyed. Moreover, USA airstrikes managed to drive some very influential and important ISIL militants out of the eastern Jazira Canton. 

3. 2016

In March 2016, USA forces decided to carry out an operation and kill Abd-ul-Rahman Mustafa Al-Qaduli. He was the 6th most wanted terrorist in the world and was one of the most influential leaders of ISIL. Moreover, according to some reports, he had been involved in plotting against the US forces. The operation went on for some time, killing Al-Qaduli and 3 other militants. Additionally, On 25th April, the USA deployed around 250 special soldiers to Syria thus increasing its presence in the country. 

4. 2017

USA’s presence in the country kept on increasing, with many news channels reporting that US troops created an ambitious task force to topple the ISIL. They created an outpost, from where they helped US-backed local forces win the Raqqa battle. Additionally, the joint forces of the USA and other nations fired around 4,400 munitions while supporting the operations in Raqqa. This was significantly more than the munitions short by US forces in previous years. 

5. 2018

This year had some of the major flare-ups between the two forces. Military Times reported that US Airstrikes eliminated around 150 ISIL militants on 20th January 2018. Moreover, the then-U.S. president, Donald Trump, also declared that “we have won against ISIL” and announced that around 2500 U.S. forces would be withdrawn. He did this without consulting any of his military commanders or advisors. 

6. 2019

The US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, said that the pullout of troops from the region is not certain and will depend on certain conditions. This included assurances from remnants of Kurds and ISIL forces. Mike Pompeo confirmed that the USA would continue to fight against Syrian Forces until ISIL is defeated. On 7 August 2019, the U.S. and Turkey reached a framework deal to jointly implement a demilitarized buffer zone in the areas between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

7. 2020

In Idlib, Khalid al-Aruri and Bilal al-Sanaani were targeted in a vehicle. The missile used, likely the kinetic Hellfire R9X, caused damage without an explosion. Ten days later, Abu Adnan al-Homsi, a leader in the Guardians of Religion Organization, was killed by a U.S. drone strike.

The current scenario: 2021-Present

Many people are baffled by the reasoning supporting the USA’s presence in Syria. In February 2021, John Kirby, the Press Secretary for the Pentagon, told reporters that the USA does not wish to protect any Syrian oil fields where there is not a threat of civilian casualty. 

Moreover, since March 2020, there have been consistent threats against US forces in Eastern Syria. USA blames ISIL and Iran-backed terrorists for conducting these airstrikes against Australia. This has also given rise to continued tension between the USA and Iran. 

Most reports coming out of Syria indicate that ISIS forces in Syria have been defeated. There are only some groups and cells remaining in some remote locations. Turkey has also continued its operations against Kurdish groups. 

As for the USA, it still has around 900 troops in northeastern Syria. The USA is trying to maintain pressure on the remaining Kurdish and Syrian forces. 

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Conclusion

The top reason why the USA is in Syria is to primarily combat ISIS and assist opposition groups. It also seeks to shape politics, offer humanitarian aid, and apply sanctions to influence the Syrian government. The situation is intricate and subject to changing geopolitical factors.

FAQs

Is Syria free of terrorist groups now?

Most parts of Syria still have terrorist groups operating inside. They are controlled by the rebels and are still at war. However, Damascus and Aleppo are safe to travel to.

Why are US troops in Syria, in 2023?

USA claims that it is in Syria to eliminate the terrorist groups of ISIL and ISIL. Analysts claim that the top reason why the USA is in Syria is to maintain regional hegemony. 

Who is ruling Syria?

Syria has been ruled by Bashar Al Assad since 2000. He came to power after the Arab Spring. Although many hoped that Bashar would help bring Syria out of misery, he has done the quite opposite. 

Why is Russia in Syria in 2023?

Russia has its forces on the ground in Syria. It provides training and support attacks on rebels. 

Will the USA be in Syria in 2024?

The USA has around 900 troops in Northwestern Syria that help maintain pressure on ISIS and other terrorist groups. Unless the US decides to exit Syria abruptly like it did with Afghanistan, it is likely that it will remain in Syria in 2024. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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