The U.S. military is setting its eyes on combating state sponsor of terrorism Iran as the war against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) dwindles in the Middle East, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
According to the Journal, “The Trump administration is turning its focus to what it sees as a bigger threat: Iran.”
“Our leadership has set as an objective not to allow Iran and its proxies to be able to establish a presence in Syria that they can use to threaten our allies or us in the region,” an unnamed senior U.S. administration official told the Journal. “There are different ways to implement that, and we are still working through them.”
Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the Journal reports that Iran has capitalized on the U.S.-led coalition’s focus to annihilate ISIS to increase its influence in Syria.
Military support from Iran and Russia has allowed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to turn the tide of his country’s civil war in his favor.
“Administration officials estimate that Tehran and its allies now provide 80% of the fighters for President Bashar al-Assad’s depleted regime there,” reveals the Journal. “By some estimates, there are 125,000 Iranian forces currently in Syria.”
The fall of ISIS has presented an opportunity for Shiite Tehran to seize control of supply routes through Syria—between Iran and Lebanon—that had been controlled by the Sunni terrorist group.
Iran has nearly accomplished its long-cherished goal of securing a “Shiite crescent” sphere of influence—a single land route that binds together territory held by several Islamic Republic allies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and the Iranian-controlled government of Iraq.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. military has already shot down two armed Iranian drones threatening American troops operating in Syria.
In June, U.S. Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman at the Pentagon, told Breitbart News that although the American military does not “seek” to offensively fight against Iran-backed troops in Syria, it would not hesitate to “defend itself” if they attack.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, has acknowledged that Iran-allied militias in Syria “pose a threat” to American troops.
“One major issue the Trump administration has to address is whether to make confronting Iran an explicit new goal for the more than 2,000 American forces currently in Syria,” notes WSJ.
“The military presence in Syria increasingly should be the center of gravity for an Iranian neutralization strategy,” Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think-tank, told the Journal. “There’s no political leverage without American military power on the ground.”
Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, told reporters this week that the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is “not done,” adding, “There are still pockets of ISIS.”
Iran-allied militias in Iraq have repeatedly threatened American troops in the region.
The Pentagon has indicated that American troops will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future to ensure ISIS does not regain its strength and influence and its remnants do not evolve into a more dangerous threat.
WSJ points out:
But those troops could also be placed at the forefront of a new effort to prevent Iran from cementing its military presence in Syria or establishing a secure route across the country that would allow Tehran to easily ferry advanced weapons to allies on Israel’s border, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the continuing discussions.
The demise of ISIS’ so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria appears inevitable, but various U.S. national security officials have conceded that the jihadist group remains a menace.