The United States is going to “re-energize” a multi-lateral military campaign that it has been leading in Syria, says US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, contrasting his boss President Donald Trump’s pledge to pull out troops from Syria.
“We are not withdrawing,” Mattis said at a hearing session of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
“You’ll see a re-energized effort against the middle Euphrates River Valley in the days ahead and against the rest of the geographic caliphate,” the Pentagon chief told the panel, referring to Syrian territories that remain under terrorist control.
Since September 2014, the US and its allies have been pounding purported terrorist positions across Syria without coordination with Damascus or a mandate from the United Nations.
The airstrike has failed to yield any meaningful results and has on many occasions worked to the disadvantage of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
However, Syria has been able to force Daesh and other terrorist groups from large parts of Syria with support from Iran, Russia and Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah.
Claiming that the US-led campaign had achieved its declared goals, Trump said in late March that Washington would withdraw from Syria “very soon,” causing much debate in and outside America about whether that was the right decision.
The American head of state appears to have softened his position since, saying on Tuesday that he wanted to withdraw from Syria “relatively soon” but not before what he called a mission was completed.
US-led operations in Iraq to continue
Mattis told lawmakers during the Thursday hearing session that he expected an increase in US-led operations against what he called militants on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria.
The Pentagon has reportedly deployed around 600 troops, including special forces, to the al-Tanf garrison which was established four years ago in southeastern Syria on the border with Iraq.
The US military is occupying a 55-kilometer (34-mile) zone surrounding the garrison without the Damascus government’s consent and has threatened to repel Syrian and Russian operations against militants stationed in the area. In May 2017, US-led aircraft attacked a convoy of Syrian pro-government forces in the vicinity of the base.
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, announced in June 2017 that they had dislodged Daesh terrorists from the the al-Waleed checkpoint on the Iraqi side of the border and were ready to enter Syria and fight terrorists there.
The US is said to be training various militants at the al-Tanf base, who operate against popular forces on both sides of the border.
Mattis also said France had been deploying its special forces to Syria over the past two weeks, in order to reinforce the campaign.
The French connection
One of the first Western countries to join the so-called coalition, France has been carrying out operations inside Iraq and Syria. It also joined the US and the UK in the April 14 cruise missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons-related facilities in Damascus and Homs that Washington claimed were used against the people of Syria.
The French troops have reportedly been working with their US peers to train and assist fighters of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria which is largely dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The support for Kurds has angered Turkey, which has been carrying out its own military operation in northern Syria to curb threats from the YPG. Ankara deems the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
Coalition casualties increase
Mattis’ announcement of a re-energized campaign in Syria came shortly after the US admitted that it 28 more Syrian and Iraqi civilians had been killed in its airstrikes in March.
This brings the official number of the coalition’s civilian casualties to 833, a number that has been widely disputed by Damascus and various rights groups.
Earlier this year, the London-based Airwars organization, which tracks civilian deaths in US-led airstrikes, put the figure at 5,961 people in both Syria and Iraq.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported November last year that 2,759 civilians, including 644 minors and 470 women, had been killed in coalition airstrikes.
US refusal to fund Syria aide programs
Despite all the talk about helping Syrian people, Washington has so far failed to prove that in action.
The lack of empathy was best put on display this week, after the US refused to pledge a single dollar in aid at a Syria donor conference in Brussels.
Organized by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations, the conference raised $4.4 billion in total, falling $1.6 billion below the target.
UN humanitarian officials said the shortfall would force them to “prioritize” who of the estimated 13 million Syrian refugees could receive help first.