The Current Situation of US Forces in Iraq and Syria

US forces in Syria (Photo: AP)

Despite some initial strategic and political doubts, the United States has kept on maintaining and strengthening its military presence in Syria, especially in the Eastern part of the country, as well as in Western Iraq.

There are now over 400 US military soldiers already stationed in Syria, with approximately 200 in the North, i.e., in the Aleppo region and the Eastern Euphrates area.

The US forces arrived in Syria directly from the Iraqi Kurdistan, through the border crossing of Al-Waleed.

According to the latest information, this includes 70 means of transport and other vehicles for transporting oil, as well as for armament and logistical support. The total number amounts to over 250 vehicles.

The convoy is mainly heading for the base of Ayn al-Arab, northeast of Aleppo, but also for Jabaleh, north of Raqqa.

Indeed, this continues the policy of maintenance and, sometimes, expansion of US troops in the region – a US policy that has been going on since last January.

Other 200 soldiers have just been deployed to the Jordanian base of Al-Tanf.

Initially, that base had been created to ISIS, but now it runs almost on the side of the most convenient and likely line of communication between Iraq and Iran – a line that, thanks to the current presence of US forces, is becoming the breaking point of the “Shi’ite crescent” that is supposed to connect, by land, Tehran and the Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.

Hence, if we consider an amount of US soldiers already present on the Israeli-Syrian border – not confirmed by President Trump, but very likely to be there – the American soldiers in Syria total 1,000, while other US intelligence sources talk about over 1,500 US soldiers who are expected to remain in northern Syria.

The bases that the United States will use are six. They are all located in Iraq, exactly where the ISIS jihadists are heading after their final defeat in Syria.

Nevertheless, this is the second target.

The Marines are present above all in a base near Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Governorate, which is 1,110 kilometers away from Baghdad.

The US reinforcements also arrived at K1, a North American base near Kirkuk.

After having served as a collection point for the troops operating in Syria and for all armaments and infrastructure, the K1 base currently serves to control the northern part of the Syrian-Iraqi border, on the side of the Kurdistan sector in Iraq.

The third US organized presence in Iraq is the airbase of Ayn al-Asad, which was visited by President Trump last Christmas.

Hence, a simple strategic deduction is already possible: the US forces in Iraq are such as to allow full land and air control throughout Iraq. Therefore, the six bases are capable of ensuring continuity between the Iraqi command on the border with Syria and the rest of the US strategy in the Middle East.

There is also the aforementioned Al-Tanf base, which is now fully operational, located just 24 kilometers away from the Syria-Jordan-Iraq border triangle. Said base has been strengthened with Marines and electronic networks, in addition to new heavy artillery positions.

Also, the base of Al-Raqqa – the old “capital” of the Caliphate in Syria, is already active. Another base which is still operational is the Remelin base, northeast of Hasakeh, which has always been the political center of the Kurds.

Thanks to this new configuration, the control of US forces on the ground is such as to check the movements, intelligence and communications of a wide part of the Iraqi territory, between Hasakeh and Tanf, right in the middle of the border between Syria and Iraq.

Hence, what is the strategic logic underlying this new deployment and configuration of US forces in the Syrian-Iraqi region?

There is a simple answer to this question: US pressure on the Golan Heights, which means very clear military and political support for the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

As is well-known, the Israeli part of the Golan Heights was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the "Six-Day War" of 1967. Nevertheless, in 1981, the Israeli Parliament, namely the Knesset, enacted the Golan Heights Act, which extended the Israeli law, civil administration and jurisdiction throughout the territory.

As we may recall, at the end of the "Six-Day War" of 1967 Israel conquered as many as three specific territories: the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and obviously the Golan Heights from Syria.

Again in that phase, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 – also known as Land for Peace – which proposed, in principle, a stable and formalized peace between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries, in exchange for a partial or total return of the territories to the previous sovereign States.

Before 1967, over 150,000 Syrians lived in the Golan Heights, while currently 25,000 Druze Arabs, most of them Syrian citizens, live in the area, as well as over 20,000 Jewish settlers, but all those living there are anyway liable to Israeli citizenship.

In 1981, Israel announced the simultaneous annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights while, shortly afterward, with Resolution 497 the UN Security Council condemned the Jewish State only for the annexation of the Golan Heights.

There were negotiations, even secret (in 2010), between Israel and Syria on the issue of the Golan Heights’ sovereignty.

At a strategic level, the area is extremely important for both Israel and Syria.

In the Golan Heights, however, there is also the drainage basin of River Jordan, Lake Tiberias, the Yarmuk River, and of some underground water networks reaching up to the Mediterranean coast.

Not to mention oil. Allegedly, oil reserves – worth millions of barrels – have recently been discovered under the Golan Heights territory.

Certainly, while – on the one hand – this Trump’s announcement for support to the Israeli designs on the Golan Heights has its strategic rationality in relation to the US interests in the region, on the other hand, it can also be interpreted as strong support for the electoral campaign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who still seems to be the US favorite candidate.

President Trump's policy on the Golan Heights, however, is new and, to some extent, contradictory.

The United States, especially in the Middle East, has always been thinking of negotiations on the territories as a result of direct talks between the parties concerned.

Moreover, the international law which is currently in force does not recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the territories occupied during the 1967 war.

It should also be noted that in 2010, Israel offered a sort of Land for Peace agreement to Syria. Nevertheless, negotiations ended in March 2011, obviously due to the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

At the time, however, the Golan Heights were for Israel without any control from Syria and were characterized by war between the Al-Nusra Front, also described as al-Qaeda in Syria, ISIS, and some other jihadist groups.

What was the use of dealing with Assad?

Furthermore, still today, Syria does not ensure any support to the population and security for the Golan Heights: currently, only Israel provides water and basic services, while also taking care of the economy and, obviously, internal security of the area.

As early as Barack Obama’s time, Netanyahu has also been asking for the US "green light" for annexation.

Hence, at a time when President Trump wants to control the areas of the Golan Heights from the center of Syria and Iraq, the US and Israeli goal is to disrupt the terrestrial line between Iran (and Iraq) up to Syria and Southern Lebanon and, above all, the Mediterranean – which is also the primary goal of Iran's participation in the Syrian war.

This was the subject of the negotiations held on March 18, in the secret meeting between Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian leaders.

Moreover, for President Trump, even if the operations in “Syraq” were also supported by Putin – as currently seems to be the case – they would be designed to reach a clear goal, i.e., stopping every operation aimed at the unification between Syria and Lebanon.

Furthermore, the idea of a “common market” between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon is now widespread among the ruling classes of the region.

It is an obvious strategic expedient.

However, it will certainly not be the subject of the negotiations between the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, from whom the former wants to know one thing only, and that is whether Lebanon accepts to be part of the Iran-Syria-Iraq-Hezbollah axis. In this case, the United States will hit – with harsh sanctions – the Lebanese banking system, which is already undergoing a severe crisis.

Other steps of the US Presidency in the Middle East – after the recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – will be the following: a tightening of sanctions on Iran; the possible conquest of a military base in northern Lebanon; and, finally, strong military presence in both the Golan Heights and the other areas, albeit within the Israeli region.