The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs is denying a Wall Street Journal report that claimed at least 1,000 US troops would remain in Syria. Gen. Joseph Dunford released a statement calling the claims “factually inaccurate” and assured the public of the Pentagon’s commitment to a steady withdrawal: “We continue to implement the president’s direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence.” President Trump made waves across the national security community when he announced his original plan in December of the complete withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria. Later, the administration announced that 400 troops would most likely stay in southern Syria to monitor possible Iranian arms shipments to Lebanese-based terror groups such as Hezbollah. No specific estimates have been made as to the number of troops, although Pentagon officials have confirmed that any new amount will almost certainly will be lower. Although the President initially supported shifting troops from Syria to Iraq, concerns from Iraqi politicians about the US using its regional presence to spy on Iran have negated any support for such an initiative.
For many in the international security community, maintaining a large enough presence to combat further ISIS operations must be the cornerstone of any future US strategy in Syria. ISIS remains a threat despite having its territorial control reduced to pockets of southwestern Syria. U.S. officials estimate that ISIS still controls as many as 20,000 armed fighters around the world, including sleeper cells in the Middle East and possibly in the West. Suicide bombings and attacks on coalition forces have demonstrated that despite their precarious position, ISIS remains a deadly enemy whose capabilities should not be discounted. US strategy towards ISIS must now shift from airstrikes to counterinsurgency in order to prevent remaining ISIS fighter from slipping away into local populations.
The endgame for the U.S. is to preserve long term stability in the Middle East. With so many forces in play in Syria such as Iran, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, and the Kurds, the U.S. must carefully manage its allies and not be sucked into another unending, bloody, nation-building quagmire. The lessons learned from the Iraq war must inform policymakers to make the decisions that best safeguard the interests of the U.S.
Full article: Potential Shifts on US Strategy in Syria (Center for Security Policy)