By Sohaila Barghash
As the US announced in February that the administration is planning to keep roughly 200 troops in northeastern Syria as part of an international peacekeeping force, in addition to 200 more troops, the number of troops being reported is more than double the total previously expected to remain in Syria.
A military official stated that the White House’s numbers “had no basis in military planning.”
On the contrary, Iranian and Syrian military chiefs met in Damascus to discuss further cooperation, as well as their Iraqi counterpart.
Iraq has recently announced the Syrian border would soon be reopened, and stated his support for Iran, thereby, granting the two states and their leaders, a political boost on the regional and international levels.
Syria’s border with Iraq has been closed for years, and was overtaken by ISIS in 2014, who vowed to eradicate modern nation states and merge them into its self-declared caliphate.
Last December, President Donald Trump announced an immediate and complete withdrawal of US troops within the following months, yet again, the president changes strategies.
Trump’s Administration also vowed to keep what it considers Tehran’s “destabilising” role in the region under control, however, was unable to do so due to Iran’s growing ties with Damascus and Baghdad.
For instance, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri stood on live television with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts and said the three countries were “united against terrorism” and cooperating on a great scale.
After the US’s announcement last month to keep its troops, it has deployed air power as well as ground troops in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.
Furthermore, the US has a military base at Tanf, near the Damascus-Baghdad highway and the Iraq and Syrian frontier
On the other hand, the US and close NATO allies continue to negotiate over a potential safe zone in north-eastern Syria, an essential element to Trump’s departure plan.
The US is now seeking further cooperation with the YPG-led SDF despite Turkey’s warnings that it will conduct a cross-border operation against the PKK’s Syrian offshoot.
The PKK is a designated terrorist organisation in the US and Turkey.
For instance, the Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Abdullah Ayoub stated, “The only card remaining in the hands of the Americans and their allies is the SDF, and it will be dealt with through the two methods used by the Syrian state: national reconciliation or the liberation of the areas that they control through force.”
The meeting held in Damascus was aimed at exploring ways in order to recover all territories that are still beyond government control, including the areas of US deployment.
In a news conference broadcast by Syrian state television, Iraqi Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi stated, “God willing the coming days will witness the opening of the border crossing and the continuation of visits and trade between the two countries.”
For Assad, reopening the Iraqi border, along with the opening of the frontier crossing with Jordan that took place last year, Syria’s physical reintegration with neighbouring economies will be activated.