While the U.S. government, particularly president Obama and John Kerry, have been voicing two different courses of action with regard to Syria, some recent developments explain the reason for a sort of confused policy the U.S. is currently following and might continue to follow in the months to come. This confusion is evident from the way the U.S. President categorically denied, in his recently given interview to BBC, the possibility of sending more troops to Syria and the way an announcement was afterwards made with regard to sending 250 more troops to Syria to buttress the already stationed troops’ position. This announcement seems to be in ‘perfect harmony’ with John Kerry’s recent ‘warning’ to Syria, Iran and Russia regarding kick-starting transition in Syria by August or else the U.S. might come up with a “new approach” to resolve the crisis.
While the prevailing confusion might not be a ‘confused’ policy in hard terms, it is certainly clear that the U.S. is under a lot of pressure, both domestically and globally, due to its inability to achieve its objectives in Syria in particular, and the Middle East, in general. While the U.S. media was quick to associate this decision of sending additional troops to Syria to the mounting domestic pressure against the government’s passivity against ISIS, the underlying reason is that the U.S. sponsored militants are continuously losing ground to the Syrian army in Syria.
This measure seems to be aimed at taking a pre-emptive action to dominate northeastern parts of Syria and pave the way for the disintegration of this country. The US had previously sent 50 Special Forces to take position along mostly Kurdish regions of Syria in the northern part of the country. The main task of these forces was mentioned as supporting the Syrian Kurds and also what the United States describes as “moderate militants.” The news about sending more American forces to Syria was first broken one week after Syrian government forces and their allies retook the strategic city of Palmyra from Daesh. At that time the Reuters quoted anonymous American officials as saying that the United States was mulling a plan to increase the number of its special forces in Syria. The Reuters’ report had noted that the new forces will be tasked with training and logistical duties and will not take direct part in combat operations.
The reason why Americans decided to boost their special forces in Syria should be sought in the consequences of the Syrian government’s renewed control over the city of Palmyra. After liberation of this ancient city, units from Syrian army have gotten quite close to the eastern Syrian provinces of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqah, which are mostly controlled by ISIS. After strengthening its grip on Palmyra, the Syrian army issued a communique noting that the country’s armed force will now focus their operations on eastern and northern Syrian war fronts in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqah provinces. Raqqah and Deir ez-Zor provinces, most of whose area is desert, form a large part of the Syrian territory and domination over them would mean having control over about 90 percent of the Syrian soil.
Were the Syrian army units to take these areas under their control, the U.S. and its allies would further lose on their demand for Assad’s exit from Syria. This would be the second major victory for Assad after successfully holding parliamentary elections in Syria in the month of April. Not only would the demand for Assad’s exit become meaningless but the U.S. proposal to ‘federalize’ Syria—a plan to territorially divide Syria into ‘zones’— would also lose its significance, whatever it currently has. In this context, the U.S. decision to send troops to northern Syria is aimed at pre-empting the Syrian army’s takeover.
Will such a decision contribute to resolution of the conflict? The answer should be in the negative. The reason for this is that by taking steps towards ‘federalizing’ Syria, the U.S. and its allies are sowing seeds of permanent chaos in the country. By sending troops to Syria, the U.S. is aiming at keep the region extensively militarized and intensively immersed in conflict. Such a situation suits the U.S. interests as it would allow it to prevent Syria and the region around it from gradually spiralling out of its control.
On the other hand countries involved in Syria, such as Iran, have taken this decision with a pinch of salt and see in it yet another American way of establishing its own tentacles in its backyard. Already an Iranian official reacted to this decision and stated that, “any dispatch of military forces must be carried out in coordination with the Syrian government.” It was further stated that Iran is committed to supporting the Syrian government, even if the truce break down, stating further that ‘certain countries dependent on Western colonialism are not committed to observing the ceasefire,’ and added that these powers “disregard the ceasefire as much as they can and use force.”
While the Iranian government has its own stakes, contributing military force to an already extremely war torn country indicates an American obsession with finding militarized solution to the problems that are essentially political in nature and can be resolved as such. If military action against ISIS is necessary, as many Americans tend to believe, it should not be confused with supporting the so-called ‘moderate groups’ either. This policy of arming an extremist outfit to fight another such an outfit has failed, contributed to an immense loss of life and property and is likely to fail again. What will the Americans do when the so-called moderate groups become a new ISIS? Let’s not forget that today’s “extremists” were also yesterday’s “moderates.”
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.