Despite President Trump’s previous pledge to withdraw US troops from Syria, Washington is considering keeping some troops in al-Tanf, a strategic base in southeastern Syria, to counter Iran’s regional clout, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
“Al-Tanf is a critical element in the effort to prevent Iran from establishing a ground line of communications from Iran through Iraq through Syria to southern Lebanon in support of Lebanese Hezbollah,” an unnamed senior US military source told the magazine.
Iran has repeatedly been accused of having a military presence in Syria, as well as attempting to build a base there. However, Tehran has strongly refuted the claims, insisting that its military presence in the country is limited to sending military advisers at Damascus’ behest to help fight terrorists.
Foreign Policy also cited a US government official as saying that staying at al-Tanf could raise legal issues for the Trump administration.
First of all, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force stipulates the use of force against non-state militants, rather than nations like Iran, no matter how problematic they may be.
Secondly, there is a question mark over President Trump’s willingness to approve a plan that keeps US forces in Syria amid the current US troop withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country.
Earlier this month, Hilal Hilal, the assistant regional secretary of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, said that Damascus would continue to demand the withdrawal of US troops from the al-Tanf base.
“We believe that any foreign base created on Syrian soil without the consent of the president and the government of Syria represents an occupation and aggressive forces. Of course, we will fight the existence of such bases on our territory,” Hilal underscored.
His statement came after Trump announced on his Twitter page in mid-January that US troops in Syria are starting their pullout “while hitting the little remaining ISIS [Daesh*] terrorists from many directions”.
The remarks followed a Pentagon official’s statement, cited by AFP news agency, that the US is withdrawing non-essential equipment, not troops, from Syria “at this stage”.
In this photo taken on August 5, 2011, US troops from the Charlie Company, 2-87 Infantry, 3d Brigade Combat Team under Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force patrols Kandalay village following Taliban attacks on a joint US and Afghan National Army checkpoint protecting the western area of Kandalay village.
On 19 December, the White House announced plans to withdraw roughly 2,000 US troops from Syria within the next several months, a move that Trump claimed can be explained by the fact that American forces had implemented their task of obliterating Daesh* in the Arab country.
The decision was slammed by some US officials and prompted two resignations: US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, who announced that his views were no longer aligned with Trump’s, and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the US coalition in Syria.