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Stars and Stripes

Inside US troops’ stronghold in Syria, a question of how long Biden will keep them there

By DAVID S. CLOUD | Los Angeles Times

(Tribune News Service) — At a makeshift military outpost abutting a natural gas field in eastern Syria, the signs of the country's violent upheaval are everywhere. Bombed-out concrete buildings lie in ruins. The pipes that once carried liquefied natural gas are shredded and twisted.

A tattered U.S. flag strung between 40-foot-tall gas processing towers flies high over the base, a visible symbol that American troops are here — and not planning on leaving soon.

"We've got the flagpole planted," said Army Lt. Alan Favalora, a Louisiana National Guard soldier at Conoco, the name the base acquired from the long-departed U.S. oil and gas firm that once operated the wells. "We want them to know we are committed to this region."

How committed President Biden will be to keeping troops in Syria is uncertain, however.

The Biden administration does not appear to be in any rush to pull out the 900 U.S. troops who remain in the country, a relatively small force that some White House officials see as key to preventing a resurgence of Islamic State and a rush to reclaim the area's oil fields by Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

But White House officials have said they are reviewing the troop presence in Syria — an announcement that has raised concerns that Biden could reconsider the deployment as part of a larger scaling back of U.S. troops in the Middle East and a planned shift of Pentagon focus to Asia.

What Biden is going to do "is the one question I got from everybody," Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie Jr., the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said in an interview after visiting eastern Syria on Friday. "I think the new administration is going to look at this, and then we're going to get guidance."

Robert Ford, who was an ambassador to Syria during the Obama administration, called the U.S. strategy "deeply flawed" and said Biden should withdraw the remaining troops who have helped the Syrian Democratic Forces — a Kurdish-led militia — carve out a semiautonomous enclave in the country's northeast.

Full story https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/inside-us-troops-stronghold-in-syria-a-question-of-how-long-biden-will-keep-them-there-1.665634