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U.S. troops in Syria could have an indirect impact in thwarting Iran


English News
English News
Washington Examiner, Feb. 27, 2018 - The head of U.S. Central Command told Congress Tuesday that American troops are in Syria solely for the purposed of defeating the Islamic State, and not to counter the influence of Iran.
“Countering Iran is not one of the coalition missions in Syria,” Gen. Joseph Votel said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Yet he suggested U.S. troops could have an indirect impact in thwarting Iran.
 “That said, I think one of the most effective things that we can do in this particular area is build strong relationships,” he said.
Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited the continued presence of U.S. troops in Syria as a counterweight to the government of Bashar Assad and his Iranian backers.
“U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria,” Tillerson said in a Jan. 17 speech at Stanford University.
“As we have seen from Iran’s proxy wars and public announcements, Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel,” Tillerson said. “As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.”
Votel drew a distinction between his narrow military mission and the broader U.S. diplomatic goal.
“As the secretary of state laid this out, he made it out not as a U.S. military objective, but he laid it out as a U.S. objective,” Votel said. “So there are certainly other ways that we can address Iran's destabilizing activities."
Votel said the U.S. is not seeking a military confrontation with Iran, but said by sticking with the forces that the U.S. backed in the fight against ISIS, it can block Iran indirectly in Syria and Iraq.
“Our strong relationship with the Syrian Democratic Forces in the east and in the northern part of the country put us in a position where we can impede Iran's objectives,” Votel said.
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria. The Pentagon doesn’t release the exact number.