US soldier guarding al-Omar oil field in northeast Syria (Photo Credit: AFP)
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday, 27 March that President Joe Biden is “committed” to keeping US troops in Syria following attacks on US military bases in the northeast of the country, The Hill reported.
“We’re going to always act to defend our troops and our facilities,” he told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation.
US troops occupy northeast Syria with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Kirby also added that the Biden administration is “absolutely” committed to keeping US troops in Syria while providing the fight against ISIS as the justification for the continued US occupation.
“Here’s what’s not gonna change … the mission in ISIS is not gonna change,” Kirby said. “We have under 1,000 troops in Syria that are going after that network which is, while greatly diminished, still viable and still critical.”
Kirby’s statement came just days after US warplanes launched several strikes on the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, targeting the Syrian military and Iranian advisors.
The US bombing was in response to a drone strike on its base in northeastern Hasakah’s Kharab al-Jir military airport, which killed a US contractor and injured several others on 23 March.
In response to the US strikes, the US base in the occupied Al-Omar oilfield was targeted in a rocket attack. Later that night, the Al-Omar base and another base were heavily targeted simultaneously in a daring and unexpected operation, which resulted in injuries among US troops.
Although the US claims that it is committed to defeating ISIS, Al-Monitor notes that “Nearly four years after the [ISIS] defeat on the battlefield, some 10,000 suspected fighters from the group remain in makeshift prisons under SDF control, with not even a hint of international political will to establish war crimes tribunals on the horizon.”
Syria analyst Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War noted a different reason for the continued US military occupation in northeastern Syria.
She observed in 2017 that “Whether Washington chooses to admit it or not, the US now has direct influence over the vast majority of Syria’s most productive oil fields,” and that the territorial gains of the SDF “are Syrian national treasures that when added up amount to brute geopolitical power for the US.”
This geopolitical power is useful leverage in Washington’s ongoing effort to topple the Syrian government and reinforces US-imposed economic sanctions that have further decimated Syria’s economy.
ISIS is itself an outgrowth of the US-backed war on Syria which began in 2011. Starting in 2010, US planners coordinated with regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Lebanon to fund and arm Al-Qaeda militants which flooded into Syria to attack police, soldiers, and security forces under cover of anti-government protests.
An August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report further showed that US planners welcomed the growth of the group that would become ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The report indicated that Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda were the driving forces of the US and Gulf-backed insurgency against the Syrian government and that the US and its regional allies supported the establishment of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria as part of the effort to topple Assad and divide the country.
For 18 months after the declaration of the so-called Caliphate in 2014, US planners took action against ISIS only in Kobani while allowing the group to conquer Mosul, Ramadi, and Palmyra, and threaten both Baghdad and Damascus.