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With ISIS nearly defeated, Syria’s future remains uncertain

February 20, 2018

With the Islamic State nearly defeated in Syria, analysts are becoming increasingly uncertain as to what’s next for the region.

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The Syrian government, which is controlled by President Bashar Assad, is looking to regain power in the areas that have been liberated from ISIS by the U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insists that the Pentagon’s short-term goal is to keep troops in those liberated areas to help restore basic services and establish an interim governing structure.

Many of the 2,000 remaining U.S. troops in Syria have been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF has been especially active in the Deir el-Zour region, which is in eastern Syria near the Euphrates River. Deir el-Zour was once the Islamic State’s oil powerhouse, which helped fund many of ISIS’ activities. Now several groups want control over the resource-rich area, including Russian-backed Syrian troops and U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces.

Recently, a group of more than 300 pro-Syrian government fighters attacked U.S.-backed troops in eastern Syria. In response to the seemingly random attack, the Americans killed about 100 of the fighters.

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Military.com reported that, according to Mattis, Russia wasn’t directly behind the attack.

Some American politicians are critical of the post-ISIS actions by U.S. troops in Syria and are concerned that the recent conflict with the pro-Syrain government fighters may lead to additional conflicts that are unrelated to the Pentagon’s original goal of defeating ISIS. Mattis responded by asserting that the United States is staying out of the Syrian civil war.

“It was self-defense,” Mattis said. “We’re not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war.”

Over the last couple of years, ISIS has lost nearly all its territory in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon is looking to ensure that the region remains stabilized to prevent ISIS from ever returning. Mattis has argued that he cannot immediately pull troops out of the region because neither the Syrian government nor the rebels are equipped to provide adequate stability.

The Pentagon is hoping to create the right conditions for a United Nations-led political resolution. Now that Syria is nearly free from the Islamic State, a variety of groups want to take control as the civil war continues.

Recently, the SDF’s headquarters in Khusham, Syria, were attacked by pro-Assad fighters. The fighters were close to violating a “deconfliction” agreement between Washington and Moscow.

“For some reason, pro-regime forces – and I cannot give you any explanation for why they would do this – moved against SDF positions,” Mattis said.

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