January 19, 2021

The uncertain meaning of a US victory in Syria

The uncertain meaning of a US victory in Syria



The concept is clear and a mantra is recited through the corridors of the Pentagon: for the United States a victory in Syria means the defeat of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS). However, the reality of this complex battlefield forces us to rethink that premise.

"Obviously, the permanent defeat of the IS is a top priority, but we have other very important priorities," Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the international coalition fighting Jihadism in Syria, recently told a conference.

Only a few months ago the Department of Defense offered a single answer to any question about the US role in the conflict, whether it related to the possible departure of the Syrian president, Bachar al-Assad, or the growing Russian influence in the region: "Our goal in Syria is to defeat the Islamic State. "

The liberation a year ago from the city of Al Raqa, the main stronghold of terrorists in the area, sparked optimism in a White House that was finally beginning to see the end of the war, which led to US President Donald Trump , to announce that the return home of the troops was near.

Military and diplomats were forced to qualify the words of the commander-in-chief, who reacted by underlining that the presence of US soldiers in the Arab country would not extend beyond the triumph over the jihadists.

However, at the end of last September, at a time when Washington boasted that the enemy was practically cornered in the Euphrates River valley and barely controlled 2% of the country, US Defense Secretary James Mattis , surprised both locals and strangers by making a less ambiguous forecast.

"I think that ending the caliphate does not imply that it can be affirmed blindly, 'OK, we're done with them, we're leaving,' and then we end up wondering why the caliphate has reappeared," Mattis said.

Journalists, analysts and even some legislators began to ask a question that has not yet been answered: What does a US victory in Syria mean?

In a telephone interview with Efe, the expert from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Mona Yacoubian, agreed with Mattis that there will come a time when the US presence in Syria "will not be limited to bombings" and there will be than to address a stabilization process.

It is in this scenario in which the presence of the extremists loses weight and the figure of Al Asad gains importance, a target of the protests that began in 2011 that ended up giving rise to an armed conflict that ultimately made possible the incursion of the IS in the country .

In addition, many voices in Washington denounce that the desire of Al Asad to hold on to power have allowed Russia to gain prominence in the international board and have enabled Iran to increase its influence in the region, so they consider that the departure of the president seems to essential.

The question now is how.

Asked about the possibility that a military offensive against the Syrian government is on the table, Yacoubian was blunt: "No, no, no, the US Congress only authorized the Army to have a purpose: the fight against IS."

Both the specialist and the Pentagon own argue that the only way is the diplomat, but the stalemate in which the Geneva peace process is for months only serves to generate more uncertainty about when they can return home American soldiers.

McGurk also listed a number of other factors – such as the presence of snipers, the use of explosive devices or suicide bombings – that further blur the line between war and victory.

"In reality, there are no clear points that mark the transition, it is more an evolution," admitted McGurk, who did not hesitate to recognize that "if you proclaim victory and leave, the problem may arise again."

Even more pessimistic, but also more forceful, Yacoubian said: "I do not think we will be able to speak of a victory in Syria for anyone." Due to the devastation that this country has suffered, it will take years – probably entire generations – to rebuild Syria. "

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