Washington, US.- The drama of U.S. and allied missile strikes on Syria has obscured a sobering fact: The U.S.-led campaign to eliminate the Islamic State from Syria has stalled.
The U.S. has 2,000 troops in Syria assisting local Arab and Kurdish fighters against IS, even as President Donald Trump resists deeper U.S. involvement and is eager to withdraw completely in coming months. Trump wants “other people” to deal with Syria, whose civil war has spawned the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II in terms of refugees.
It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with a total U.S. withdrawal while IS retains even a small presence in Syria. Since January, when Trump asserted in his State of the Union address that “very close to 100 percent” of IS territory in Syria and Iraq had been liberated, progress toward extinguishing the extremists’ caliphate, or self-proclaimed state, has ground to a halt and shows no sign of restarting.
U.S. warplanes continue to periodically bomb remaining pockets of IS in eastern Syria, but ground operations by U.S. partner forces have slowed. “We’ve halted forward progress and are essentially attempting to avoid losing territory we’ve gained to date,” said Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. She sees two potential solutions: send additional U.S. combat power to eastern Syria to take on IS more directly, or resolve a diplomatic dispute with Turkey that has largely sidelined the main U.S. military partner in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Now that Trump has upped the ante by attacking Syria directly for the second time in just over a year, Cafarella said in an interview this week, it is possible that Syria and its two main international supporters — Russia and Iran — will retaliate militarily against American.