In a pair of letters issued within the last month, Pentagon and State Department officials indicated that the Trump administration envisions U.S. soldiers remaining on the ground in Syria and Iraq indefinitely, even once Islamic State militants have been defeated, and does not believe it requires additional permission from Congress to do so.
…As disconcerting as it is that the administration continues to deploy soldiers in Syria with no authorization from Congress and asserts that no such authorization is required, it is also refusing to give straight answers about its objectives there. Then again, that makes us no different than every other belligerent in the Syrian conflict: Claiming to be just fighting terrorists has been a standard refrain for a while now in Damascus, Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, and Jerusalem as well, even when ulterior motives are plain to see.
…Syria and Russia claim that they are targeting Islamist militants who are using the area to launch mortar attacks on Damascus and using civilians as human shields. Russia claims the Western media is biased against it and reports of Syrian atrocities in eastern Ghouta are fake news. The U.N., however, has called the situation a potential “massacre” and is pushing for the Security Council to impose a 30-day ceasefire to allow for medical evacuations and the delivery of emergency aid.
…Russia has threatened to veto any resolution that does not make an exception for strikes on jihadi militants such as it is purportedly targeting in eastern Ghouta — though it’s unclear how a resolution could allow the continued bombing of the area and also enable aid to safely reach the 400,000 civilians who live there. The U.S. delegation to the U.N. has accused Russia of stonewalling any meaningful action.
Turkey, meanwhile, continues its campaign to drive Kurdish forces out of the northern region of Afrin, where it is now clashing with pro-Assad fighters sent there to help the Kurds resist the Turks. The Turkish incursion is a delicate situation for the U.S., as Turkey is a NATO ally but the Kurdish militias have been some of our most reliable partners in Syria.