National security adviser John Bolton said Monday American troops will remain in Syria as long as Iran deploys forces outside its own national borders, in another signal the Trump administration’s Syria policy has shifted from a narrow mission against the Islamic State to an open-ended intervention.
U.S. troops will be deployed to Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders,” Bolton told reporters at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, according to The Associated Press.
About 2,200 American troops are currently deployed to eastern Syria as part of a multinational coalition to defeat ISIS. Throughout the deployment, which began under the Obama administration, U.S. military leaders have repeatedly emphasized the narrow scope of the mission, limiting its objectives to destroying ISIS positions in the Middle Euphrates River Valley and along the Iraq-Syria border.
That emphasis has changed in recent weeks, with senior Trump administration officials saying the military intervention in Syria will continue indefinitely as part of a broader campaign to counter Iranian influence across the Middle East.
The plan envisions a long-term commitment not only to the “enduring defeat” of ISIS, but also to preventing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from consolidating power in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war. It further aims to eject Assad’s Iranian allies from Syria altogether, according to Ambassador James Jeffrey, who is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s handpicked representative for Syria engagement.
“The new policy is we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year,” Jeffrey told reporters in Washington earlier in September. Instead, they will remain in support of a combined military and diplomatic effort to limit Iranian and Russian influence over post-war reconstruction, he said. (RELATED: Trump’s Syria Envoy Confirms US Commitment To Another Open-Ended War In The Middle East)
Iran has long supported proxy forces in other Mideast countries, particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. More recently, Tehran has used its support for Assad’s forces to establish a military footprint in Syria, allowing it to more easily project power into the eastern Mediterranean.
The Trump administration has made countering Iranian influence in the Middle East the centerpiece of its regional policy agenda. Its controversial support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen has continued in large part because the conflict is seen as a proxy battle between Washington’s Gulf Arab allies and Iran, which is aligned with the Houthis.
President Donald Trump has readily adopted hawkish views on Iran. However, he has at times appeared much less enthusiastic about keeping U.S. troops in Syria for an extended period of time. He told his national security team in April he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “very soon,” even though military commanders were advising against a hasty withdrawal.
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