The United States is planning an open-ended military presence in Syria in order to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State group as well as seeing through the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday as his country continues its uninvited intervention into the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
Tillerson, in a speech at Stanford University, called for "patience" on Assad's departure, the clearest indication yet of an acknowledgment that the Syrian president has managed to hold on to power with the help of Russia and Iran as his forces battle anti-government insurgents funded by Western governments and rich Arab Gulf states.
“The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge," Tillerson said using an acronym for the Islamic State group while adding that his government would also seek diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. Washington has 2,000 U.S. ground forces in the country.
During his presidential campaign Donald Trump harshly criticized his predecessors over interventions and wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, saying it was costing the U.S. unneeded military casualties and a waste of money.
He even said that the U.S. should not be trying to spread its own version of democracy and “freedom” to countries with different cultures and systems. However, now that he is in power Trump has increased the number of troops in Afghanistan, further extending the 2001 intervention, and is now doing the same in Syria, with no plans to withdraw from either in sight.
Also in 2017 under the Trump presidency the number of civilians killed in bombings by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq more than doubled compared to the previous year, with more than 8,050 deaths recorded in Syria and more than 3,700 in Iraq.
Over the past few years the U.S. has been actively supporting a multi-ethnic group in Syria called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is mainly made up of the leftist-nationalist Kurdish force YPG, as part of efforts to fight the Islamic State group. The SDF has proven to be the most effective in fighting and ousting the extremist group.
However, the U.S. support for the SDF, under both Barack Obama and currently under Trump, has strained relations between the U.S. and Turkey, which sees the YPG as a terrorist organization seeking to destabilize the Turkish state.
Tillerson’s comments came as Turkey threatened action on the Syrian border against the SDF after the the U.S.-led coalition said Sunday it was working with the Kurdish-led group to set up a 30,000-strong force that would operate along the borders with Turkey and Iraq, as well as within Syria.
But Trump’s strategy does not seem to please any brokers in the conflict. Assad responded by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from Syria. Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control, and Turkey described the force as a "terror army."