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US Troop Count in Syria Jumps by 50 Percent Since Trump’s “Withdrawal” Announcement

The huge amount of equipment being brought into Syria by the U.S. starts to look much more like a surge than a withdrawal when one considers that a thousand more troops have already been deployed to Syria following Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA — Despite having touted his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as recently as Sunday, the U.S. military appears to be doing the complete opposite and is instead dramatically increasing the number of U.S. troops illegally stationed in northeastern Syria.

According to a report in Turkish media outlet Anadolu News, a convoy of an estimated 150 trucks and armored vehicles entered northeastern Syria from Iraq on Monday night, crossing the Simelka checkpoint into U.S.-occupied Syria. The convoy then arrived at a U.S. military logistics center in Syria’s Kharab Ishq and Sirrin on Tuesday. Al Masdar reported that footage of the convoy had also been posted on social media, showing generators, construction equipment, Humvees and large trucks.

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The U.S.is currently occupying nearly 30 percent of Syrian territory, an area that contains the vast majority of Syria’s oil and gas potential as well as most of its freshwater resources.

Though this latest report could be dismissed as just another shipment of military equipment to the U.S.’ proxy force in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, long a go-to source of information on Syria for the mainstream media, has recorded “the entry of 1,130 trucks at least, carrying equipment, ammunition, weapons, military, and logistic equipment to bases of the International Coalition east of Euphrates” in the weeks between Trump’s withdrawal announcement last December and this past Sunday.

 

Withdrawal or surge?

The huge amount of equipment being brought into Syria by the U.S. starts to look much more like a surge than a withdrawal when one considers that a thousand more troops have already been deployed to Syria following Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement.

Indeed, the New York Times confirmed this past Sunday that the official U.S. troop count in Syria has now surpassed 3,000, growing by over 50 percent since Trump announced his plan for a complete troop withdrawal in December. Though the Timescalled the increase “a standard practice to bring in additional security and logistics troops temporarily to help protect and carry out the process of pulling out,” several analysts have dismissed this explanation, noting that deploying a force of 1,000 to withdraw of a force of 2,000 makes little sense, particularly since the withdrawal is set to take place in friendly, Kurdish-controlled areas.

The Times claim that this is “standard” procedure prior to the withdrawal is belied by the fact that the Syrian Observatory noted that as many as 700 U.S. troops were brought into Syria from Iraq for a “specific” military operation aimed at rounding up the remaining Daesh leaders, who are said to be cornered in a small area ( 4 sq.km., around 1.5 sq.mi.) east of the Euphrates.

Furthermore, the Syrian Observatory also noted in its recent report that the U.S. has been bringing anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns into the region even though it claimed to have launched its “final assault” on Daesh (ISIS) late last month in a completely different area. The Observatory’s report notes that the missiles can reach the “positions of the Iranian Forces west of [the] Euphrates river,” apparently hinting at the missiles suspected targets.

Also interesting is the fact that, while the number of U.S. troops in Syria has grown, the U.S. military has claimed that it has withdrawn some equipment in order to give the appearance that the troop withdrawal was advancing. However, the latest movement of equipment from U.S. bases in Iraq to a U.S. military logistics center in Syria is significantly larger than the only convoy to have been seen moving in the opposite direction. That convoy, which was widely reported on in U.S. media as “proof” that the withdrawal was underway, included just 10 armored vehicles and a few trucks. However, as previously mentioned, over 1,000 armored vehicles and trucks have since gone back into Syria, with the latest convoy alone estimated to have contained at least 150 vehicles.

In addition, the fact that this most recent convoy crossed into Syria under the cover of darkness suggests a desire to keep the movement of equipment largely under wraps. Though traveling at night would be wise if the convoy were traveling through dangerous, enemy-held territory, this is not the case as the area through which it traveled is controlled by the U.S. and allied forces.

 

Probing the contradiction

There are a few possibilities that could explain the public promotion of a “troop withdrawal” while the reality on the ground is, in fact, the opposite. First, it could be an indication of officials in the Trump administration and the Pentagon working together – potentially behind the president’s back – in order to derail the troop withdrawal. Indeed, several top Trump administration officials — such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and the State Department’s “representative for Syria engagement,” James Jeffrey — strongly opposed the withdrawal and have worked hard to undermine it in recent months.

The reaction in the military was similar, prompting the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the resignation of Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (Daesh, ISIS), Brett McGurk. In addition, Defense One reported Tuesday that the top U.S. commander in the Middle East had not been consulted prior to Trump’s announcement of the troop withdrawal plan, meaning that the plan greatly surprised the Pentagon’s top brass, potentially leading to resentment.

Another possibility is the fact that feigning military withdrawal before pushing for greater conflict and military intervention is an established U.S. tactic and was detailed at length in the influential 2009 policy paper “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran.” That document was published by the pro-intervention, neo-conservative Brookings Institution and focused on destabilizing Iran and its regional allies, including Syria. Given that the Pentagon has been publicly stating that the troop withdrawal is going forward — while significantly and covertly increasing the number of U.S. troops, ammo and equipment in Syria — bears strong resemblance to this tactic and could suggest increased U.S. involvement in Syria in the near future.

Some media outlets, like Activist Post, have noted that Trump’s previous plan for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, which he had announced last April, was soon followed by a timely false-flag chemical weapons attack that derailed Trump’s withdrawal plan after it was promptly blamed on the Syrian government despite a lack of evidence. That event ultimately resulted in Trump – along with his counterparts in the U.K. and France – launching 105 missiles into Syrian territory.

Given that the Trump administration has made “containing” Iran the primary goal of its Middle East policy, it would come as little surprise to see the current administration – itself teeming with neo-cons – using the neo-conservative playbook for Iranian and Syrian regime change in order to achieve that very goal.

Top Photo | A convoy of U.S. troops drive in Manbij, Syria, March 31, 2018. Hussein Malla | AP

US Military Finally Sets Target Date For “Full Withdrawal” From Syria

02/07/2019

Here it is finally. The time has arrived for the fabled, confused and precarious US troop withdrawal from Syria despite the best efforts of neocons and interventionistas to permanently stall and alter course, per a new Wall Street Journal report that dropped late in the day Thursday: “the military plans to pull a significant portion of its forces out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April.”

But you might be forgiven for remaining skeptical with a “believe it when I see it” approach, as President Trump first announced a “rapid withdrawal” on Dec. 19 which quickly became “no timeline” in the weeks that followed — though it depended on who in the administration or Pentagon was asked — with many determined to quash Trump’s prior campaign promises of “bring our boys home.” But now the WSJ speaks with a new confidence that this time it’s for real:

The U.S. military is preparing to pull all American forces out of Syria by the end of April, even though the Trump administration has yet to come up with a plan to protect its Kurdish partners from attack when they leave, current and former U.S. officials said.

US deployment position in Syria, via the AP/Defense One

What’s hanging the balance, and of concern for US officials, is the unresolved fate of the Kurds who are now looking down the barrels of the Turkish army and the head-chopping knives of their jihadi ‘rebel’ allies on the ground, poised to invade formerly US-occupied space in Syria.

The WSJ report, citing US officials, says that Washington and Ankara have “made little headway” on the Kurdish issue after a series of diplomatic cold shoulders, including John Bolton being personally snubbed by Turkish president Erdogan last month while Bolton was visiting Turkey for talks. The US has aimed to avert a direct fight (in which the Kurds would face slaughter or certain retreat), but simultaneously to prevent its Kurdish allies on the ground from entering the embrace and protection of Assad.

Something has to give, so could it be that Trump is willing to accept Kurdish rapprochement with Damascus? It could very well be headed toward a “look the other way situation” on this front, as the WSJ notes “the U.S. military withdrawal is proceeding faster than the political track.”

“The bottom line is: Decisions have to be made,” one U.S. official told the WSJ. “At some point, we make political progress, or they’re going to have to tell the military to slow down, or we’re going to proceed without a political process.”

However, the WSJ also noted that the Pentagon has yet to comment: “We are not discussing the timeline of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria,” said a Pentagon spokesman.

It should be noted that Trump’s latest rhetoric seems a preparation for quick pullout, or big coming announcement: “It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate,” the president said Wednesday during an anti-ISIL coalition speech at the State Department.

According to the WSJ report, some 2,000 US service members would withdraw as follows:

Under the working military plans, the U.S. would pull all troops out in the coming weeks — including about 200 Americans working out of a base in southern Syria [al-Tanf] that has served as an informal check on Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the region, the current and former U.S. officials said.

And on Tuesday, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, said in testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, “I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date, and I have not had any specific conditions put upon me,” Gen. Votel said, but crucially he added, “The fact is the president made a decision, and we are going to execute his orders here to withdraw all forces from Syria.”

Per Trump’s words on Wednesday, will an April “complete exit” be announced from the mouth of the president himself next week, at which point the Pentagon and administration hawks will no longer able to stall?