Pentagon Signals Open-Ended Troop Commitment in Syria
The U.S. military plans on staying in Syria as long as necessary to ensure the Islamic State (ISIS) does not return, a Pentagon official said on Tuesday (December 5), as the fight against the militants winds down.
"We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to -- to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told AFP.
The United States currently has approximately 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, where they have been helping to train and advice Kurdish and Arab partner forces in the fight against ISIS.
Now that the militants have been cleared from all but a few pockets of territory, the United States is assessing its future presence in the civil war-torn nation.
Pahon said the U.S. troop commitment would be "conditions-based," meaning no timeline will determine any pull out.
"To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it [ISIS] cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground or plot external attacks," he said.
"The United States will sustain a 'conditions-based' military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas."
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but quickly spiraled into a bitter and complex civil war, with ISIS just one element in a shifting matrix of players.
The U.S. military, along with other nations in a U.S.-led coalition, began bombing ISIS in late 2014 but until now has largely declined to address what its role in the tangled conflict might be after the militants are beaten.
"We are going to be in Syria for some time yet. I don't want to say that's 10 years, I also don't want to say it's not," Pahon said.
"What people should not expect is that we are going to see the last ISIS guy die and then we are going to abandon our partners."
The military's "conditions-based" phrase to define troop commitments is in part a reaction to the administration of Barack Obama, which insisted on a calendar-based withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The move bitterly angered U.S. commanders, who saw it as giving the Taliban a countdown on when they could resume operations in earnest.