Hundreds of U.S. troops are expected to remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, even with the Biden administration moving to pull troops out of Afghanistan and transition to an advisory role in Iraq.
"In Syria, we're supporting Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS," a senior Biden administration official told Politico. "That's been quite successful, and that's something that we’ll continue."
Around 900 U.S. troops, including Green Berets, will stay in Syria. Their official role, as in Iraq, is to help local forces fight against ISIS, but one defense official said no American troops have gone along with local forces on combat patrols in either country in over a year.
Like in Iraq, the Syrian Democratic Forces have led combat operations against ISIS, while U.S. and coalition troops support their efforts from far away.
Since 2014, the United States has aimed to build the local military's capability to fight against ISIS independently. This is a shift from the operations in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Syria have come under fire in recent weeks, including with troops at the Al Omar oilfield in eastern Syria coming under a drone strike on July 7. The recent attacks have come from Iranian-backed militias in both Iraq and Syria
Experts say the U.S. mission goes beyond fighting ISIS and instead allows prevention against Russian and Iranian efforts.
U.S. troops are keeping Syria's government, which is backed by Russia, from accessing oil fields and agricultural resources in northeastern Syria. They also are blocking Iran from establishing a geographic corridor to connect Tehran with Lebanon and the Mediterranean, according to Will Todman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Aron Lund, a fellow at the Century Foundation, however, told Politico that Biden's administration is more focused on stability and conflict management in comparison to Trump's, which focused on replacing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and preventing Iran from seizing oil fields.
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