The president's call to begin the withdrawal of American troops from Syria and "green light" the Turkish invasion (a term invented by the press) will effectively turn the now two-plus-year deployment in Syria over to Turkey, a NATO ally. While Turkey is an imperfect ally, it is a powerful regional actor best suited to deal with the Syrian quagmire on its own border.
The small U.S. "base," consisting of a contingent of fewer than 200 American soldiers, is indefensible and surrounded by myriad forces, including Syrian army, assorted Kurdish fighters -- composed of groups we think we know, plus many we don't know -- the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force and militias of the Popular Mobilization Units.
Russian "advisers" also operate unopposed inside Syria. There are so many competing groups and rivalries inside Syria that U.S. combat forces and the CIA still do not have an accurate grasp of who's who. The president is not going to wait for a truck bomb to flatten the Syrian base that, at the outset of the operational deployment, he told the Pentagon not to build.
While there are an estimated 200 combat troops in Syria, the exact number has not been released by the Pentagon. This morning, there are indications that as few as 25 U.S. troops are being moved out of an area along the Turkish/Syrian border. The drawdown may actually be a tactical realignment of forces rather than a mass exit, as other reporting would lead you to believe.
The president told the Pentagon at the beginning of the Syrian deployment to get ISIS elimination done and withdraw. He expressly said he did not want to expand the war into yet another country, with another deployment rotation requirement. This was a sound decision, one with a timeline.
When Trump announced the withdrawal last week, the Pentagon leaked that they were blindsided by the decision. But they shouldn't have been surprised, given the president's express instructions regarding the timeline and deployment parameters at the outset of the Syrian operation. Now that Trump is preventing "mission creep" and the establishment of yet another indefensible forward operating base, the Pentagon screams foul. While the military establishment is probably disappointed, they cannot legitimately claim they were unaware of the president's intentions.
One would hope that the CIA has been recruiting unilateral assets and setting up stay-behind networks over the past two years, building capacity inside Syria for the long-term policy support and intelligence collection required to sustain a long-term covert action program. CIA networks coupled with a robust Foreign Intel program would vastly reduce the loss of American lives and the unsustainable financial burn rate of U.S. troop deployments in theater. Has this planning and deployment taken place?
The president made a pledge to the American people to end these wars. After three years of dealing with the Pentagon, Intelligence Community and State Department, what does he see? In Afghanistan, we're entering year 18 of rotational deployments. In Iraq, we're in year 15 of rotational deployments. There have been two years of rotational deployments in Syria, with limited success, but now there's a stalemate. A stalemate in war is bad news. Compounding the endless deployment cycle and the continued casualties of our killed and wounded is the grossly unsustainable $1.1 billion weekly burn rate it costs to maintain on the ground operations in the region. What operational outcome are seeking in these three conflict zones? What are we sacrificing our blood and treasure to achieve?
Both ISIS and al-Qaida have morphed into a rough coalition largely funded and controlled by Iran. The groups, severely weakened, have evolved into a tool for Iran. Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are all strategic operational areas for Iran. Unlike the U.S., Iran has no trouble understanding who the players are in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have penetrated their every group. They are part of the governmental fabric in Syria and Iraq. Iran medically treats and rehabilitates more ISIS and al-Qaida fighters than any other country. They are assisting in the movement, retraining and resupplying ISIS and al-Qaida fighters to Afghanistan and all the way to Central Africa.
To support this massive covert effort, Iran operates 11 border crossings inside southern Iraq. They have built a logistics pipeline that links southern Iran to Damascus. This trucking route moves materials and men across Iraq from Basra and all the way to Syria. They operate inside Iraq unopposed. The U.S. has no presence south of Baghdad.
To turn a phrase, these inconvenient truths on the ground support the president's hard decision to pull back from Syria. The U.S. Tier 1 forces securely maintain significant airlift and strike capability an hour away inside Iraq. We can see what is going on in Syria. The pundits have said Turkey is going to invade and overrun the Syrian Kurds, our wonderful ally. POTUS has said that if this happens, he will crush Turkey's economy. I'm inclined to take him at his word.