National security adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon with the Mayflower Hotel on September 10, 2018, in Washington.
The U.S. will keep a military presence in Syria until Iran withdraws its forces, a top-notch Trump administration official said Monday.
“We’re not gonna leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, such as Iranian proxies and militias,” White House national security adviser John Bolton said when it’s in New York for that U.N. General Assembly.
The pledge has come about as 2,200 U.S. troops serve in Syria, nearly all of them focused on the war contrary to the Islamic State inside eastern third of the country. While Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said Iran poses greater strategic threat, U.S. military leaders have emphasized that Iran just isn’t their focus.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, inside a gathering with reporters in the Pentagon Monday, repeatedly asserted that Bolton’s comments reflected no difference in policy, which the Pentagon was for a passing fancy page since the White House on the the role for U.S. forces can be in Syria.
“As much of this overarching problem, we will need to address Iran,” Mattis said. “Everywhere you decide to go in the Middle East where there’s instability you will find Iran. In terms of dealing with the finish state of the Geneva process, Iran, too, carries a role to play, which is to stop fomenting trouble.
“Right now our troops inside Syria exist for one purpose, and that’s underneath the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS,” Mattis said.
Mattis said he and Bolton were “for a passing fancy sheet of music,” but suggested the U.S. presence would be determined by United Nations-led peace talks in lieu of Iran’s activities.
“It’s the Geneva process as well as the Geneva process has got to arrived at a conclusion as to find out this end,” Mattis said.
The Trump administration has sought to partner with Russia to help compel the Iranians to depart Syria, with no success. In a new setback, Moscow announced it could give Syria’s government newer, S-300 missile defense systems after last week’s downing of an Russian plane by Syria in a friendly fire incident, a subject Pompeo said he would bring up with his Russian counterpart soon.
“We think introducing the S-300s towards the Syrian government could be a significant escalation from the Russians and something that people hope, if these press reports are accurate, they will reconsider,” Bolton said.
However, the incident has created tension between Russia and Israel, which Moscow blames for the incident. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims the down Russian IL-20 was caught inside the crossfire as Syrian air defenses responded against Israeli F-16s.
Iran’s intervention in Syria on the part of and with the invitation of Syrian President Bashar Assad has empowered an array of pro-Assad regime armed groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, and contains brought Iranian forces into Syria that Israel views as directly threatening its security, as outlined by a Congressional Research Service report published this month.
President Donald Trump said five months ago he wished to “get out” of Syria and provide U.S. troops home soon. But earlier this year, the secretary of state’s special representative for Syria engagement, James Jeffrey, offered comments suggesting U.S. forces could pursue a permanent presence in part to complicate Iranian activities in Syria.
Jeffrey said the administration plans to keep U.S. military forces in Syria beyond “the conclusion from the year” to ensure the defeat from the Islamic State. “That means we aren’t in the hurry,” he was quoted saying.