Syria Daily: US Declares Long-Term Military Presence But Answers Few Questions

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, January 17, 2018 (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has presented a revised US strategy for Syria, promising a long-term military presence but only raising more questions about Washington’s approach.

Using the Islamic State as a pretext, Tillerson said American forces would be positioned alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces which Washington has backed since its creation in autumn 2015 to push back ISIS.

“The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” the Secretary of State declared. He said that, in the areas where ISIS had withdrawn, Washington would pursue “stability operations” for the resumption of services and clearance of mines.

Tillerson also said a US priority was to prevent the expansion of the influence of Iran, an essential backer of the Assad regime, and he spoke of the necessity of achieving a stable, unified Syria.

Uncertainty Over Assad and Turkey-Kurds Issue

However, on the central issue of the regime’s future, Tillerson was unclear. While speaking of a settlement which “will result in the permanent departure of Assad and his family from power”, he said, “this process will take time, and we urge patience in the departure of Assad and the establishment of new leadership”.

The statement was an indication that the US, pushed to the side on the political process by Russia since 2016, has no idea on how to regain any initiative in the discussions. Tillerson said instead, “Responsible change may not come as immediately as some hope for, but rather through an incremental process of constitutional reform and U.N.-supervised elections. But that change will come.”

The Secretary of State said almost nothing of the US approach to the Syrian opposition and rebels, after years of an American withdrawal of support, or of the challenges facing the latest American declarations.

Earlier this week the US confirmed a plan to create a 30,000-strong border forces, with half the personnel coming from the Kurdish-led SDF. The proposal provoked fierce objections from Turkey, which considers the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG militia to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK. Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and the Syrian opposition also criticized the initiative.

See Syria Podcast: US Gamble, Turkish Threat Over a Kurdish-Led “Border Force”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is threatening an offensive against the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria. After a meeting with Tillerson in Canada on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu indicated that Turkey might also move against the SDF-held city of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province.

A Turkish National Security Council meeting on Wednesday, chaired by Erdoğan, announced, “Necessary steps would be taken immediately and resolutely to defeat any threat against Turkey from western Syria in the first stage….The establishment of a terror corridor and the formation of a terrorist army across the border will not be allowed.”

In his speech, Tillerson avoided any comment on the situation, merely praising Turkey’s role in the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkish media claimed that Tillerson, flying from Canada to the speech in California, backed away from the border force:

Some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all. I think it’s unfortunate that comments made by some left that impression. That is not what we’re doing.”

He said Turkish officials had been told US intentions were only “to ensure that local elements are providing security to liberated areas.

Ignoring Russia and Pro-Assad Offensives

The Secretary of State also all but ignored the ongoing attempts by the Assad regime, backed by Russia as well as Iran, to overrun opposition areas in northwest Syria and in the Damascus suburbs.

Tillerson proclaimed an advance by the US and Russia with the pronouncement of a “de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But it was only in passing that mentioned the pro-Assad offensive trying to regain parts of Idlib Province, almost all of which has been controlled by the opposition since spring 2015, or of the months of attacks and tightening, deadly siege of the East Ghouta area near the capital.

Despite proclaiming de-escalation zones in those areas, Russia has carried out airstrikes in support of the pro-Assad bombardment and ground assaults.

Fires burn after Russian airstrikes with incendiary munitions on towns across Idlib Province on Wednesday night:

Russian strikes on northern Hama Province:

Regime Reaction: “Iran Doesn’t Control Us”

A prominent pro-Assad social media account — reportedly run by New York-based banker George Saghir — conveyed the reaction of a “highly credible source in Damascus”, who was at pains to refute the portrayal of Iranian influence on the Assad regime:

Throughout past seven years, one is led to believe that Tehran’s influence in Syria is so broad and complete that Assad needs Iranian approval prior to visiting the bathroom….

Those who know the “Regime” are very aware how important it is for Damascus to retain control over its final decisionmaking and on who controls its territory.

The source declared that Tillerson’s speech will “bring Syria and Iran closer together” and emphasized, “Assad has no plans of leaving.”

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. The lines seem pretty clearly drawn. Are these questions you are raising rhetorical? The US has resisted being directly involved in the syrian civil war for the entirety of the war. The green light of ATGMs (which made a huge difference), some failed training, and some small weapons support were the extent of any support. The Tanf situation is only still there because of the 40k refugees stuck there and the US has no idea what to do with them. Everything along the Israeli border is Israels interest. And everything east of the Euphrates is the Kurdistan that has been talked about for the last 5 or so years( on this very website even ). The rest of it is for the Turks, Iran, Russia to sort out and its not looking good when those are your patrons/enemies. The regime will grind out/absorb/use up the remaining fire power of anything in Idlib and eventually it will be back under Assad. The only question is how much of a tantrum erdydog going to have on the kurds since he wasn’t able to get anything else this whole time with the exception of egg on his face.

  2. You are right though, the US did unite everyone against the idea. Its also proof positive that its a good idea. Every actor that is opposed is a dishonest actor to begin with.

    Kurds have as much right as Israel has. The world should be supporting this in the strongest terms

  3. These are the last drawings before the final agreement. Question is where will the operation end, and what did US and Russia got from the deal. certain illiterate atheists (you know who 🙂 ) may still claim that US didn’t sell ypg\pkk but that’s unimportant anyway.

    I hope the useful idiots, the atheist ypg\pkk one day understand that, the only reason they are temporarily supported by the US or Russia is to be able to sell them to turkey at a high price. To this day they served their purpose, forced Turkey to buy expensive weapons from the US, or make other concessions.

    • Your judgement is clouded and exposes your mind to conspiracy which you greedily accept.

      Really?!? The kurds are the reason the Turks bought expensive weapons from the US? You are deluded.

      I’m still fully expecting your buddy Erdydog to start throwing a little child style temper tantrum at any moment

      • Let’s not say kurds , that organization has a name which is pkk. Do you say Arabs instead of Isis?
        PKK is not the only reason but one of the most important ones among the reasons turkey makes US defence industry rich. Blackhawks, cobras,etc were bought primarily for counter terror ops.

        And no I don’t hate anybody.

        • ok, I will bite…

          “reasons turkey makes US defence industry rich. Blackhawks, cobras,etc were bought primarily for counter terror ops. ”

          Your logic is a fallacy. It was brought in so Turkey could have a more powerful army. That was the turks choice. The US helped them. So when you start out with an implication that it made the US defense industry rich, you lose your credibility. From the looks of it, Turkey wants to buy weapons from whomever it can. So, why, in your argument, do you make your economic implication? The answer to that is so you could belittle/besmurch the US because inherently you are against the US for whatever your reasons.

          Having a powerful army is beneficial to Turkey far beyond the kurds. The kurds are probably the least important reason for the acquisition of additional weapons. So, again, it was something that Turkey wanted, thus the US helped. Nothing to do with the economics of it. If you want to go there, then why did Turkey buy the stuff in the first place? There is no one threatening Turkey’s existence. Add in the defense provided by NATO and its hard to understand, having any practical reasons for needing it. Wouldn’t it have been better to invest that money in the Turkish economy?

          • Well, the helicopters specificly, were bought after the insurgency started not before that. They are of great use in the mountainous east of turkey. Otoh for example turkey’s tank fleet is obsolete because it is useless in the asymmetric warfare. Most advanced tanks of turkey are couple of hundred Leo2 a4’s and Israeli upgraded m60a3’s.

            • You did not answer Anonymous question to provide evidence that there is a conspiracy to make Turkey buy useless expensive weapons. Turkey is free to get its arms from whomever it desires. You Islamists identify with the alt-right democracy haters and the regressive left west haters. If you think liberal democracy will allow your shithole Islam to ally with the left and the extreme right to conspire against freedom and human rights – then think again. We will destroy all three of you haters, like we destroyed fascism and communism.

        • “Let’s not say kurds , that organization has a name which is pkk. Do you say Arabs instead of Isis?”

          The problem is, the turks don’t distinguish. As you point out. Remember the token gestures about the tv station, etc. How many have been shut down? How many are being censored by Erdogan and Co? And one of the more entertaining responses you put down, I believe you said something along the lines of “I have kurdish friends”. This is basically like saying “I have black friends”. You admit in your statement the differentiating factor that you cling to. Its basically an admission of racism. And those were your words, that you posted. Nothing that I made up.

          Arabs are a classification of human beings, ISIS is a collection of religious zealots. So, no, I dont say Arabs instead of ISIS.

          • I don’t know you say how many have been shut down. The thing is there is a considerable improvement but this does not change PKK. Turkish Kurds are much better when compared to Iran or syria or saddam’s Iraq.

            I know better than you that Kurds are quite diverse; there are Kurds who are salafi and join isis/nusra/qaeda, there are Kurds who support khoda-par (legal wing of Kurdish Hezbollah, an iran linked org), there are Kurds who support extreme left. Then again there are Kurds who support erdogan, fight on the side of government. It is actually in the western media that PKK is considered as the only representative of Kurds.

            Lastly whatever meaning you extract out of my words i’m not a nationalist, I identify myself just a Muslim. I prefer a Muslim Kurd to an atheist Turk anytime.

            • The nexus of three evil ideologies – fascism, communism, Islamism. All coming together because of their hatred of freedom and democracy and wish to rule and exploit the weak for personal gains — just like Khamenei – richest man in the world ($100B), Islamist par excellence.

  4. #Observation: I said these two point on the podcast thread but I think they need repeating.
    1) Turkey needs the rebels to maintain their Idlib offensive because the minute Idlib front quite down is the minute the Russian airforce can stop a Turkish offensive on Afrin hence why I think the Turks started provided arms to Syrian rebels 2 weeks ago though what the rebels need right now is not more armoured vehicles but ATGMs to stop Assad’s army moving closer to Abu Duhor (sp?) airbase.
    2)I find it strange that having successfully launched a ‘swarm drone’ attack on Hmeimm airbase (destroying 7 Russian jets) that rebels don’t attempt something similar on both Hama airbase and Aleppo airbase? Posts 2 to 6 in the below link shows a possible way this could be done to knock out Assad’s jets just like rebels did with Russian jets:
    That said this little piece of information is interesting –
    “Reports that the US is building a military base near Omar oil feld (biggest in Syria), Deir ez-Zor province. – @fuadhud”
    Make of the above what you will with regards the motives of the US in building their base in Syria,

  5. Lavrov talked cordially with Çavuşoğlu yesterday via Skype with no word of any memo about keeping his Turkish “bloddy hands” off Afrin:

    In fact, as they spoke the Turkish Army was busy tearing out several Panzer-sized chunks of the border wall to the Afrin Ghetto, obviously to clear passage for the accelerated delivery of “humanitarian supplies”, and Lavrov had no problem with that, merely dropping a knowing wink while hauling another fag from the pack even as the Rooskie ‘observers’ in Afrin begin to relocate southwards:


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