Quietly before the beginning of the new year, James Mattis held a press conference discussing a new long term mission for Syria. According to the vision of the plans laid out, the Pentagon has promised a full time presence of at least 2,000 active duty troops inside the country at all times going forward and the US State Department announced the formation of a new program designed to transition American civilian contractors into new roles within Syrian society, helping to rebuild cities and other areas destroyed by years of War.
While the State Department does not want people to think the US is engaging in some sort of new ‘nation building campaign,’ according to a report by NPR, in addition to restoring basic services like water, sewer, electricity and telecommunications, the State Department “will also help train local police forces, rebuild schools and work with local governments.” It is also important to distinguish that this will strictly be a civilian backed program, not a “military operation” – something stressed by James Mattis.
When asked whether Syrian government forces could move to disrupt the US plans, Mattis said: "That would probably be a mistake." https://t.co/cV5uvnsR51
— Kamal Chomani (@KamalChomani) December 29, 2017
To accomplish this, the State Department reportedly plans on offering Government funded contracts to US citizens willing to make the trip and do the dirty work of rebuilding some of these cities in the future. However, there is just one major problem, the State Department does not currently have an estimate of how many people this is actually going to take and perhaps even worse, the Department doesn’t even know what type of budget they will be working with.
As you might remember, US Congress only passed a temporary budget measure in December to fund the US Government through January 19th 2018. Technically speaking, at the present moment in time no one in the US Government is certain of how much money they will have this year – especially considering President Trump is on record as favoring budget cuts across the board.
#Breaking: Congress has approved a continuing resolution which averted a government shutdown. The new funding bill will run through January 19, 2018
Full-time TMD employees resume normal operations and report to work on their next regularly scheduled workday.
— Texas Military Dept (@TXMilitary) December 22, 2017
Independent of the US’s current budget conflicts, the State Department wants the world to know that they are committed to maintaining a presence in Syria and have every intention of remaining in the country for the long haul. Even though the logistics are still a bit uncertain, James Mattis also wanted the press to know that all levels of the United States Government are currently working together and are all on the same page when it comes to the future of Syria.
As for The Military Angle…
Essentially, at the present moment in time the United States Army owns everything East of the Euphrates river and the Syrian Government, backed by Russian and Iranian forces, controls everything west. However, quite literally, the land the US now controls exists within Syria’s borders and still belongs to Bashar al-Assad – and he very much wants it back for himself. While Russia and the United States have temporarily agreed to a de-militarized zone separating these two conflict areas, Syrian forces led by Assad continue to slowly advance eastward. If this continues, we are inevitably going to reach a moment in time when the US Government and Syrian Army meet head to head at an impasse.
What happens then no one could possibly know, but as you can read from the Tweet above, James Mattis has rather bluntly said that if Assad and the Syrian Army ever attacked US forces directly it “would probably be a bad idea” and wouldn’t end very well for them – lol. It is also important to note that the United States is currently increasing troop movement inside the country at the same exact time Vladimir Putin is actively withdrawing them. This suggests that Syria would be more alone than they would like, should they actually try to take on US forces head on one day.
Mattis says that he wants to maintain a military presence inside Syria in order to ensure that “ISIS 2.0” never forms and that the US does not leave behind a vacuum of power when we finally do exit the country – like we once did in Iraq. Over the course of the next several years, as Syrian society begins to grow, recover and strengthen, Mattis also expressed that he would like to see US forces gradually take a step backwards to allow the Syrians to begin Governing themselves. Ultimately though, it will be the job of the US State Department to help Syrians accomplish this.
As for the immediate future, now that the Islamic State has been pushed out of Syria and victory has been declared, Mattis says that he plans on transitioning US forces in Syria away from physical combat and will instead focus more heavily on intelligence gathering and counter -terrorism efforts.