The Trump administration is seeking to raise an army of Arab soldiers from Syria’s neighboring countries that would take over for American troops and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of the Islamic State, according to U.S. officials.
John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, has called Egypt’s acting intelligence chief to ask if Cairo would contribute troops to the effort, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The plan comes as the Trump administration searches for a way forward in Syria after launching punitive strikes against targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. There are about 2,000 American troops deployed inside Syria, and Trump has expressed a desire to withdraw at least some of them this year.
Still, top administration officials say American troops will remain in Syria until the U.S. accomplished three goals: The total defeat of ISIS, ensuring chemical weapons can’t be used in any way that harms U.S. interests, and establishing a vantage point to watch what Iran is doing in the country.
As he mentioned in his address announcing the allied strikes, Trump is seeking to enlist the help of regional governments to accomplish those objectives.
“We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing larger amounts of money,” Trump said Friday night.
In addition to Egypt, the Trump administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to chip in billions of dollars for reconstruction in Syria. It has also asked those nations to deploy troops, as well, according to TheWSJ report.
The plan to use an Arab force to police a wide swath of Syrian territory is sure to run into roadblocks, given the region’s complex political and foreign policy dynamics. Though it has a large army, Egypt is currently preoccupied with fighting an entrenched ISIS affiliate in its Sinai peninsula and securing its chaotic border with Libya.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are bogged down in their own war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and past attempts by Washington to persuade either country to send troops to Syria have been unsuccessful.
The Trump administration is counting on its close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to make a difference this time, U.S. officials say. Trump has already asked Riyadh to contribute $4 billion for rebuilding efforts in former ISIS territory.
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