The U.S. retreats as Syria advances

Syrian soldier waves the flag of Syria
Syrian soldier waves the flag of Syria. | Photo: Reuters / Omar Sanadiki

By Joe Mchahwar

Trump deserves no credit if U.S. troops leave Syria. The United States never fought Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) in Syria, they supported it. The resistance of the Syrian people, their state, and their allies has forced the United States to withdraw from the untenable situation they’ve found themselves in. For over seven years, at great cost, Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia have fought and defeated a massive U.S.- and NATO-backed and directed mercenary invasion. With their contra forces nearly annihilated, the United States cannot face the resistance alone.

Time will tell if the U.S. is truly going to leave Syria within the 100-day time frame initially laid out by the White House. The newest reports suggest the withdrawal could take several months. Though this could amount to a major victory on several fronts of the war, danger looms from imperialist partners in the region and open-ended U.S. operations in Syria despite the potential withdrawal.

Statements and actions from the United States at the same time have exposed the regional element of the steps they are taking in Syria. One day after the withdrawal announcement, the first U.S. aircraft carrier strike force sailed into the Persian Gulf since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal) was torn up by the United States.

President Trump visited U.S. soldiers at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq on December 26, the first time he has visited an active war zone. Trump assured the soldiers that they weren’t going anywhere and could potentially be used in Syria, saying, “In fact, we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something [here].” Trump’s surprise three-hour visit was taken as a serious insult by Iraqi lawmakers. Parliamentarians from the largest parties took this as an opportunity to push for laws formally demanding the United States to leave Iraq, slamming its presence as an occupation. Reports suggest the U.S. intends to build two more bases in Iraq.

Washington’s Zionist proxy has been quick to show it doesn’t intend to stop waging war against Syria. On December 25, the first Christmas that Damascus has celebrated without the threat of terrorism, Israeli jets fired missiles near Damascus from Lebanese airspace. Most missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defenses but they had to limit their response because of the danger of striking civilian aircraft. Lebanon has decried the attack and is lodging a complaint to the United Nations Security Council.

The withdrawal announcement on December 19 signaled the end of a stalemate across most of Syria that has been in place since a demilitarized zone was established in the province of Idlib in October 2018. Since its establishment, Syria has effectively been divided into liberated territories and zones of occupation. Idlib province and much of the neighboring Aleppo province are controlled by Turkey and a variety of proxy forces they support and direct.

A military base in al Tanf near the Jordanian and Iraqi border is controlled by the U.S. and armed groups it backs, along with nearly all land east of the Euphrates river, which the U.S. has occupied through the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and People’s Protection Units (YPG). In spite of Trump’s claim that Daesh (the so-called “Islamic State”) has been defeated, the U.S. and SDF have maintained several Daesh pockets east of the Euphrates. Imperialist powers such as France and England have also used the SDF as a means to operate in Syria.

Directly preceding the withdrawal announcement on December 12, Turkey announced an impending expansion of its occupation of northern Syria under the pretext of fighting the SDF and YPG. Following the withdrawal announcement, Turkey continued to prepare for the invasion by moving troops, weapons, armored vehicles and allied fighters to the areas of Syria they occupy, as well as their own border.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, “Right now, it is being said that some ditches, tunnels were dug in Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates. They can dig tunnels or ditches if they want, they can go underground if they want, when the time and place comes they will [be] buried in the ditches they dug. No one should doubt this.”

Turkey backpedalled and put the timeline of the operation into question. A variety of statements about the potential operation were subsequently released by Turkey and the proxy forces involved. Contradictory statements from Turkey regarding Syria, especially in times of crisis, are par for the course. The reality of Turkish forces and their proxies amassing in and around northern Syria in spite of official statements raised the obvious question: was the United States planning to reignite the war by handing over the SDF and eastern Syria to Turkey and its proxies for occupation?

Thousands of Syrians took to the streets in cities and towns across northern and eastern Syria to denounce this plot and the threat of Turkish invasion. At mass demonstrations in al-Hasakah, Raqqa province, and the border town of Qamishli, Syrians declared support for the state and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Reports circulated of negotiations between the Syrian state and the SDF and YPG to prevent a Turkish invasion.

In a bid to deter Turkish aggression, on December 28, the SDF/YPG and the Syrian Arab Army announced the entrance of Syrian soldiers into Manbij, a city declared to be the first target of the impending Turkish operations. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “We are against the partitioning of Syria. Our goal is terrorist groups leaving there. If the [terrorist] groups leave, then there is no job left for us.” This implies that if the SDF and YPG were to be replaced directly by the SAA, Turkey wouldn’t need to expand its occupation of Syria. Reports indicate Turkish-backed forces and supplies continue to arrive at the border with Manbij. Turkey and Russia held talks about Syria on December 29 but no deal or outcome was announced.

Turkish military vehicle
A Turkish military vehicle drives through the Manbij countryside. | Photo: Reuters / Khalil Ashawi

The United States has disputed the claim that Syrian Arab Army forces have entered the city of Manbij. A Pentagon official told NPR that “U.S. forces have not pulled out.” The official Twitter account of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria also denied the reports. Even if the U.S. withdrawal proves to be little more than a shuffle of soldiers around Syria and a statement, the announcement itself has opened the playing field for other imperialist powers to take action where the United States cannot.

It may be the case that the successes and enduring power of the Syrian state and their allies have forced Turkey to moderate their ambitions in Syria and seriously weigh the implications of challenging Russia and Iran as a proxy for the United States. If a wider deal is struck between the Syrian state and SDF/YPG concerning the rest of Syrian land, the balance of forces would favor Syria enough to seriously threaten the Turkish occupation and deter further foreign aggression.

Arab states, including those who spent millions conspiring to destroy Syria, are falling over each other to re-establish diplomatic, economic and social ties with the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have both re-opened their embassies in Syria. Jordanian Members of Parliament have demanded that Amman, the capital city of Jordan, restore relations with Syria to pre-war levels. A major border crossing between the two countries was re-opened earlier this year. The Iraqi National Security Advisor met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on December 29. On December 16, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit Syria since the beginning of the war.

Danger still hangs over Syria and the region because imperialism cannot survive in this century without controlling the resources and strategic lands it is home to. Taking that into account, it is clear the power of the resistance is hastening the death of imperialism and the United States’ unipolar world order. Today, we celebrate with Syria the feats they have accomplished against our common exploiter and oppressor. Tomorrow, we must remain vigilant with them, for their fight is not yet over.

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