While the headlines highlight the withdrawal of American troops from direct working with the Kurds on Northern Syria?
There is information that points to a small number of American Military Special Operator’s still in Northern Syria and in adjoining Iraq in contact with the Kurds…
One would think that the Pentagon, unlike the President, does NOT want to just walk away from the Kurds and that Congress will back the US Military on this…
The U.S. hopes to “preserve” a relationship with the Kurdish forces even as they pivot toward Russia and the Syrian regime, a senior defense official told reporters this week, speaking on condition of anonymity like several other current and former officials quoted in this story.
But even if the relationship survives in some form, the pullout means the U.S. will have lost its direct link to its main allies in the fight against ISIS.
“By, with and through is how we do business, and my concern is that [U.S. troops’] moment-to-moment presence is what created the ability of the SDF to deal with emergent ISIS elements,” said John Allen, a retired Marine general who was previously the Obama administration’s special envoy for the coalition against ISIS.
Trump has said that a small number of U.S. troops will remain at a base in southeastern Syria, called al-Tanf, where U.S. commandos work with a partner force of Syrian Arabs.
The desert base is also small and austere. “You’d have to build that place up quite a bit to make it a viable counterterrorism platform,” said a current special operations officer with experience in Syria, adding that expanding al-Tanf might raise the hackles of the Syrian regime.
Another option would be to fly special operations troops into eastern Syria by helicopter from neighboring Iraq for occasional raids. The senior defense official said some of the troops leaving Syria are expected to relocate to Iraq, adding that the U.S. military’s Central Command “is still planning the details of who will be doing what where.”
The military launched a small number of such missions from Iraq into Syria in 2014 and 2015 before building its partnership with the Syrian Kurds. Military planners revisited that option after Trump previously ordered a withdrawal from Syria in December 2018, said a former senior special operations officer who has led troops in the region.
But such missions also pose stark risks. “Maybe they’ve got a miracle course of action up their sleeves,” said the former senior special operations officer. “But we looked at this same problem set when the president first said he was going to pull out back in December, and there’s not a lot of good answers.”
Some of the risks could be lessened if the Syrian Kurds allow the U.S. to maintain occasional access to a base somewhere in the northeast that commandos could use as a jumping off-point for such raids, suggested a former senior officer who has led troops in the region. The Pentagon is looking at that option, he said — but “whether or not the Kurds will permit that is anybody’s guess. We may have burned that bridge.”
Or the U.S. could rely on air strikes from drones and manned aircraft — if it can maintain access to the skies over northeastern Syria. Another senior defense official told reporters that U.S. surveillance aircraft will continue to fly over the area for the time being to monitor activity at prisons where Kurdish forces are guarding captured ISIS militants….