“US troops are fighting ISIS in Syria. But Congress hasn’t approved it, the public hardly knows about it, and it’s not clear under what conditions the US would leave.
Americans tend to only be reminded of the 900 US troops and hundreds of contractors stationed there when they came under attack, often from militants who have Iran’s support, or when there is a mishap”
“The US is in Syria to curb the terrorist group Islamic State or ISIS, in a region that is semi-autonomous and run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish group.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that troops are needed because “if you completely ignore and turn your back, then you’re setting the conditions for a resurgence.”
But experts say that the US troops there are not building toward a sustainable outcome, and that resisting ISIS has become the pretext for a perpetual US presence.”
“Ford explains that the American mission to secure the outright defeat of ISIS is impossible. The 900 troops in the northeast of Syria and the US garrison at al-Tanf cannot stop a low level of recruitment into ISIS ranks. “So we can bomb some and we can kill some, but they’ll always replace the people that they lose,” he told me. “This is a classic forever war.””
“Hundreds of active-duty U.S. troops are descending on the Mexican border this week, but they’re not authorized to make arrests, use their weapons or do much more than administrative work.
That’s making the military deployment — timed for the end of pandemic-era immigration restrictions — a classic no-win political situation for the Biden administration, which is getting hit from at least one prominent Democrat for perpetuating Trump-era militarization of the border, and from Republicans who say the mission will be utterly ineffectual.”
“Biden is responding to the expected end of Title 42, which has allowed the U.S. to deny asylum and migration claims for public health reasons. Officials say the expiration of Title 42 on Thursday will prompt an influx of Central Americans into the U.S.”
“Officials say they would have preferred to rely on law enforcement agents for the mission, but the Department of Homeland Security is short on people and money. So the administration is turning to what they have now, which is 1,500 active-duty troops. And officials say they will be there for only 90 days, until law enforcement can find contractors to do the work.”
“The 1,500 troops Biden is sending will be armed for self-defense only and are not authorized to use force, make arrests or otherwise act in a law enforcement role. This is in keeping with the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the active-duty military from enforcing the law inside the United States.
“Military personnel will not be permitted to support migrant processing and escort duties or other activities that involve direct participation in civilian law enforcement activities, be responsible for property seized from migrants, or require direct contact with migrants,” according to a statement from U.S. Northern Command.
Instead, they will be performing administrative tasks such as data entry, warehousing, and additional detection and monitoring support to free up Border Patrol agents to deal with the migrants.
They are joining 2,500 National Guard troops on active-duty status — also subject to Posse Comitatus — already doing similar work at the border since July 2022.
By contrast, Trump granted active-duty troops the authority to protect law enforcement agents if they engaged in violence in November 2018, a controversial move that put the military in direct contact with migrants.”
“Part of the reason Trump sent troops to the border in 2018 was to help build his long-promised wall along the Mexican border. The Pentagon was directed to send members of the Army Corps of Engineers to help lay miles of concertina wire and erect other barriers and fencing.”
“Trump also shifted billions meant for military infrastructure projects to finance the border wall. The move drew bipartisan opposition, but Congress wasn’t able to muster the support to stop Trump.
Biden canceled the project when he took office, but kept the National Guard presence on the border for other support missions.”
“President Barack Obama announced he was “responsibly ending the war in Iraq” in 2009, shortly after he came to office, in part on the strength of his condemnation of Bush’s decision to invade. The combat mission officially concluded for a second time two years later, in 2011, with around 700 U.S. troops remaining behind in an advise-and-assist role, along with several thousand U.S. contractors.
But once IS started grabbing land in Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014, committing anachronistic atrocities along the way, the Obama administration went back in. This second round never included a U.S. ground presence anywhere near the scale of the 160,000 American soldiers (plus nearly as many contractors) deployed during the 2007 surge. But U.S. forces again numbered in the thousands and continued to do so until the Iraqi government in 2020 asked then-President Donald Trump to make another exit plan.
The Trump administration dismissed that request, so it wasn’t until the end of 2021 that President Joe Biden announced the third end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. This time, about 2,500 U.S. soldiers stayed behind to advise and assist—indefinitely.”
“Just days into 2022, multiple military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria came under attack. Two drones carrying explosives were destroyed last Tuesday as they headed toward U.S. troops in western Iraq. The next day, rockets and indirect fire hit bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And last Monday, two armed drones were shot down as they approached a facility housing American advisers at the airport in Baghdad.
Though there were no casualties, the Iran-backed militias behind the attacks have made clear that they will continue. That alone should encourage the Biden administration to get American soldiers out of harm’s way”
“In response to a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), Austin acknowledged that while there were “a range of possibilities” for what could have happened with a theoretical continued presence, “if you stayed there at force posture of 2,500, certainly, you’d be in a fight with the Taliban. And you’d have to reinforce yourself.”
This is the crux of the matter: There is no plausible scenario in which the U.S. could leave behind a permanent, or even indefinite, force of soldiers without incurring further casualties. The Doha Agreement negotiated under Trump set an end date by which all American forces would have left Afghanistan, barring any future Taliban violence; a new administration reneging on that deal would certainly have invited renewed bloodshed. And a force of 2,500 facing the entirety of a renewed Taliban would have necessitated further reinforcement. At that point, we would be right back to October 2001, facing an uncertain future and an even more uncertain end goal.”
“As commander in chief, Biden is still operating under the authority of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which, on paper, grants the president only authority to bring the military to bear against those responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but in reality has been used by multiple U.S. presidents to authorize very broad military interventions throughout the world.
Furthermore, the 2002 AUMF, which directly authorized the military invasion of Iraq, is still in force. The House voted in June to repeal the 2002 AUMF, but that repeal hasn’t passed the Senate yet. We still have thousands of troops in Iraq and are currently planning to keep them there indefinitely. The plan is that these troops will serve as logistics and advisory help for Iraq’s government, but they will most definitely still be involved in fights against the Islamic State.
We may have pulled troops out of Somalia, but we’re still performing airstrikes there against Al Qaida affiliate al-Shabab. In June, the Pentagon announced that it is considering putting troops right back in there.
And none of that gets into the countless—well, not countless, but the numbers are deliberately concealed from the American public—drone strikes in places like Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya. We don’t really have data on drone use under the Biden administration yet, save the disastrous one from late August in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including 7 children. Biden has reportedly quietly implemented stricter rules on the use of drones outside of war zones and the White House is evaluating the legal and policy “frameworks” for continuing to use them.
Biden might not see all of this piecemeal military intervention as “war,” but let’s be clear here: We’re talking about thousands of U.S. troops overseas involved in potentially killing armed combatants. And Biden currently still has congressional permission to wage war.”
“Joe Biden is starting to do what every administration talks about but never manages to really do: Get U.S. forces out of the Middle East. His administration has removed Patriot missiles from the region, curtailed B-52 shows of force against Iran, and is preparing to bring home U.S. aircraft carriers after decades of dangerous Gulf deployments. In addition, of course, Biden is ending what he himself called the “forever war” in Afghanistan.
But if the goal is to reduce military involvement in the Middle East, then it should be alarming that the Biden administration has bombed Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria more times in the last three months than the Trump administration did in all of 2020. If the current exchange rate continued, we would expect a total of nearly 50 attacks on U.S. bases by militias with ties to Tehran, a handful of U.S. deaths, and half a dozen U.S. retaliatory strikes by the end of the year. On Monday and Tuesday, the United States hit back for the second and third times since Biden took office, striking militia targets in Iraq and Syria in response to increased drone and rocket attacks on U.S. troops in those two countries.”
” The dilemma for the White House is that it sees maintaining a small, focused counter-terrorism mission in Iraq and Syria as a worthwhile alternative to a full withdrawal, which would benefit adversaries like the Islamic State and Iranian hardliners. But Iran-backed groups will not stop attacking those outposts. Now, it seems the administration is caught in a vicious cycle of using small, pinprick strikes in an effort to deter the militias while avoiding escalation, but these half-measures achieve neither intended outcome. The Biden team needs to end the tit-for-tat cycle by hitting back smarter, harder and less openly.”
“The Biden team has been periodically hitting back at a time and place of its choosing, wisely separating provocation from retaliation in time. But the strikes have not been inventive or bold enough to affect the calculations of the militia leaders, instead hitting targets that just don’t matter. The administration seems fixated on sending clear and unambiguous deterrent messages that are anything but clear and unambiguous to Iran and her militias. This is because U.S. strikes are deliberately limited in order to avoid escalation — but this means they are too weak to deter. Each U.S. strike has been calibrated to roughly mirror the prior militia strike in destructiveness, but when 11 of every 12 militia attacks go unanswered, the cost exchange is still heavily in the group’s favor.”
“to reduce the risk of escalation, do not announce U.S. involvement. The U.S. was criticized by Iraq’s government for the recent strike inside Iraq, yet Iran and the militias it backs in Iraq were not criticized for their rocket and drone strikes because they do not openly claim such attacks. Israel has, for years, not claimed many of its deterrent strikes, which has given its enemies some leeway to ignore, prevaricate over or delay retaliation. Although unclaimed strikes will raise valid concerns about oversight and transparency, the U.S. government has procedures not only for undertaking strikes using Title 50 intelligence community and covert action authorities, but also for informing Congress of these actions in closed session.”
“Iran must understand that there is a cost to giving advanced drones to their militia proxies. Send messages to Iran’s security establishment — separately from the nuclear talks happening in Vienna — that the U.S. will match Iranian covert action with its own.”
“The passage of the resolution, however, does not mean foreign forces will immediately be expelled from the country. The country’s prime minister would need to sign off on a formal bill to accomplish that. Mahdi, of course, supports the move, but the fact that he is an interim prime minister could complicate matters.”