The Pentagon has officially announced that there are now 2,000 troops in Syria – a fourfold increase from the previous figures given. “The United States will continue necessary counterterrorism and stabilization effort,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning said.
“The United States will sustain a conditions-based military presence in Syria to combat the threat of insurgent-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS and to stabilize liberated areas.”
Manning claimed that the Iraqi Army and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have liberated about 97 percent “of the people and land” previously controlled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria respectively. He said the campaign to defeat IS is now in a new phase in these countries.
Coalition forces are still needed in the two countries, Manning said, adding that they will now focus on “train, advise and assist” missions. “As the terrorist group continues to lose territory, important work remains to ensure its lasting defeat.”
The US military has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the number of troops and “military advisers” it has fighting alongside anti-government rebel forces. Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon routinely announced foreign troop deployments, but the Trump administration stopped disclosing such information regarding Operation Inherent Resolve. The policy was reversed in the spring of 2017 in order to maintain the “element of surprise” against Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.
Damascus views the US military engagement in Syria as illegitimate, as there was no official request for intervention from the government. Early in November, Syrian leader Bashar Assad said his government will deal with any “illegal invader force.” He added that the war in Syria will continue until there is a full “recovery of security and stability to all Syrian lands.”
Washington insists its military presence in Syria is lawful and justified by UN mandate. In mid-November, US Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed the United Nations sanctioned the US presence in Syria.
“You know, the UN said that… basically we can go after ISIS. And we’re there to take them out,” Mattis said. Moscow responded by saying the UN cannot greenlight a foreign invasion of Syria, as it is contrary to international law.
Media reports indicate that the US is not planning to leave any time soon. According to the Washington Post, the US wants to keep troops in Syria long after Islamic State is defeated to help the Western-backed SDF establish “new local governance” structures in order to prevent complete victory by the Syrian government and its ally, Iran.