Troops to stay put in Syria even as Biden seeks to end America's 'forever wars'

While President Joe Biden tries to end America's forever wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, the quiet operation of the Pentagon in Syria has, for most of its time, been invisible to the public. POLITICO has been told by defense and administration officials that the U.S. military operations in Syria have been going on for seven years, despite two unsuccessful attempts by President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops.According to a senior administration official, we are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in Syria. "That's been very successful and that's something we'll continue to do.This confirmation comes after Biden and Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, announced Monday that the mission to Iraq would transition from combat to advisory at the end of this year. The mission of American troops in Iraq was similar: to support local forces against the Islamic State.One defense official stated that no American troops had accompanied local forces in combat patrols for more than a year in Syria or Iraq. The goal has been to increase the ability of both the Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight ISIS on their own since 2014. This is a significant shift from the 2003-2011 U.S. operations in Iraq.The official stated that they are not breaking in doors or apprehending enemy soldiers. The official said that the United States' primary local partner in Iraq, the Syrian Democratic Forces has led combat operations against the Islamic State with U.S. troops and coalition troops supporting from afar.The coalition announced that the SDF carried out a raid against Islamic State militants in Hasakah (Syria) on July 21st. Two airstrikes were conducted by the Coalition on the building to support the soldiers of the SDF and eliminate the terrorist threat. The raid was not carried out by any coalition or American troops.In recent weeks, however, American forces in Syria came under attack. Troops in Syria's Al Omar oilfield were attacked by a drone in July 7, and another incident in which multiple rockets were fired at them on June 28, respectively. These incidents are part of a string of attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria against Americans. In recent months, the U.S. has intensified its efforts to leave the region.According to officials, the Russian military repeatedly invaded U.S.-held territory in eastern Syria last year as part of a campaign to push the American military out. After an altercation in northeast Syria with Russian forces, four U.S. military personnel were hurt.The American military mission in Syria has wide ramifications beyond the ISIS battle. Experts say it also serves to counter Russian and Iranian interests. According to Will Todman, a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the presence of U.S. troops in Syria prevents the Russian-backed government from accessing oil fields and agricultural resources in northeastern Syria. It also serves to block Iran's goal of establishing a geographical corridor linking Tehran with Lebanon and to the Mediterranean.Todman stated that it is important to maintain the U.S. ability to stop Iranian attempts to transport weapons and arms into Syria. Iran reaps the benefits of ongoing instability.However, while Trump's factions tried to overthrow President Bashar Assad, and then to stop his government and Iranian factions seizing the oil fields of the region, Biden's team is more focused on stability and conflict management, according to Aron Lund, a Century Foundation fellow.Lund stated that there is no clear, safe and uncontroversial exit route. Biden appears to have made it clear that he does not want to be forced to deal with unnecessary crises in Syria.He also said that another important difference between Syria and Iraq is that the SDF, the Syrian partner, wants the U.S. stay. This was partly to protect against Russian attacks. Kadhimi is being pressured by Iranian-linked groups in his government to remove the Americans from Iraq.Experts still believe that any major change in the American military position in Iraq will likely cause problems in Syria, especially since the main route for the United States to access its forces in eastern Syria is through Iraq.Lund stated that Syria is just one of the many reasons why leaving Iraq and ending its presence in Iraq is considered problematic.Mick Mulroy, an ex-top Pentagon official responsible for Middle East policy, said that the withdrawal of U.S. support assets to Syria, including personnel and equipment, could have an impact on the mission in Syria.John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, declined to answer questions about whether the U.S. presence would impact the troop situation in Syria.Kirby stated that it was unclear what decisions might be made in these talks with Iraq regarding Syria. However, ISIS is still being defeated.However, General Frank McKenzie (head of U.S. Central Command) declined to answer questions about the future U.S. military operations against Syria earlier in the year. He did however emphasize that the American troops provided stability to the war-torn nation.McKenzie asked, "What would happen if we withdrew?"