U.S. Calls Iran Strategic Threat in Syria

President Donald Trump speaks about Iran

For the #Trump administration, it has been a war of words with the #Iranian regime, primarily focused on Iran’s actions within the Middle East region. Various members of the administration have pointed to Iran’s actions in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen as examples of its meddling, a sign that the influence of this regime’s fundamentalism is spreading. However, the biggest example that the U.S. and international leaders can point to is the civil war in Syria.

Iran has bolstered Assad’s regime in #Syria, providing troops and other assistance, while gaining control of large swatches of Syrian territory. Various international groups have called Iran’s efforts in Syria part of a larger plan to create a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean.

U.S. troops have been in Syria, along with other forces, in a bid to fight #ISIS groups that have settled into Syria, taking advantage of the disarray. While the initial plan of the U.S. was to withdraw troops once the ISIS threat had been dealt with, a range of policy goals seem to indicate that #U.S. troops will be in the area for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, a crisis is unfolding on the #Syria-Turkey border could embroil the U.S. military into a wider regional conflict, but the small number of U.S. troops may not be able to make a significant difference.

In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listed the goals of the administration for their troops in Syria. This list included vanquishing al-Qaeda, ousting Iran, and securing a peace settlement that excludes Assad from power.

These goals outline the reality that pursuing ISIS has led to the U.S. being entangled into other regional conflicts, making it doubtful that the U.S. troops will be pulled out of the region in the near future. Currently, 2,000 American troops are in the Kurdish-controlled corner of northeastern Syria.

Initially, these troops were deployed to aid local Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS. Tillerson pointed to the withdraw of troops from Iraq and the rise of ISIS as a reason to keep the troops in Syria on an open-ended deployment.

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“We cannot repeat the mistake of 2011, where a premature departure from Iraq allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually become ISIS,” said Tillerson. He also noted that Iran’s enhanced role is one of the biggest challenges in the region.

“Continued strategic threats to the U.S. other than ISIS persist. I am referring principally to Iran,” said Tillerson. “Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria by deploying [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] (IRGC) troops; supporting Lebanese Hezbollah, and importing proxy forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Through its position ink Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking U.S. interests, allies, and personnel in the region.”

The other issue is that #Turkey has started attacking the Kurds in Syria, where the U.S. troops are, making the situation more complicated. The area controlled by the Kurdish fighters who are tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging war against Turkey. For the Turkish government, any training of these fighters is seen as a threat and the leadership of Turkey has indicated that if the U.S. continues its training efforts, those actions will negatively impact the relationship between the two countries.

The bigger question for the U.S. is how to address the conflicting goals of its allies in Syria. The U.S. doesn’t want to give Assad back territory taken from ISIS, but also don’t want to leave Syria in the control of Iran.

Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, indicated that Tillerson is bringing two new strategic elements to the U.S. role in Syria.

First “the Trump administration is making a declaration: the Syrian civil war will only end when Iran has been removed from Syria.” Second, that “the Trump team will keep the U.S. military inside of Syria, however long it takes, to ensure its goals are met.”

“Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump team is making the clear connection that Iran’s presence in Syria is the cause of instability that empowers Salafist jihadists that threaten the national security of the United States,” Mr. Heras added.

For this administration, the #Syria war will end when Iran is removed from Syria. Until then, the U.S. is going to maintain a troop presence in both Syria, but there seem to be indications that the U.S. presence in the region will be ongoing as well.

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