WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened US forces on Thursday in an interview with Russia Today (RT), a Moscow-based media outlet, funded by the Russian government.
Assad affirmed his determination to retake the eastern third of Syria, now held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
Some 2,000 US Special Operations Forces, as well as a smaller number of French troops, work alongside the SDF in Syria.
Speaking fluent English, Assad offered the SDF the choice between his carrot and his stick: negotiate or face armed Syrian assault, “with Americans or without Americans.”
“This is our land. It’s our right, and it’s our duty to liberate it,” Assad continued, “and the Americans should leave.”
“Somehow, they’re going to leave,” he affirmed ominously.
“They came to Iraq with no legal basis and look what happened to them,” he said, referring to the US-led war in Iraq.
Assad knows well. Syria played an important role in stoking the Sunni insurgency during that conflict, funneling foreign fighters through its territory and into Iraq
Strangely, the Bush administration did very little to punish Damascus then, which may now be fueling Assad’s sense of impunity.
Americans “have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” Assad concluded, as a drum roll signaled a program break, underscoring his ominous words.
Even before this interview, senior American figures had begun to warn of the vulnerability of US forces in Syria and in Iraq, where they are threatened by Syria’s close ally, Iran.
“I keep thinking of the Marines in Lebanon,” former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, told an Atlantic Council seminar in late April. “It’s the same constellation of actors.”
“The preponderance of force in Syria is not with us. It’s with the Iranians plus the Assad regime. They’re the ones who blew up the Marine barracks,” he continued.
On Oct 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck into the building that housed the US Marines in Beirut, where they had been deployed to provide security following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the year before.
220 Marines and 21 other US servicemen died—marking the largest casualty toll for the Marines in a single day since World War II.
58 French paratroopers were killed in a second, nearly-simultaneous, suicide bombing that morning.
The attack on the Marine barracks followed a series of assaults on US targets in Beirut, including the bombing of the US embassy—where Crocker was posted—six months before.
Three months after the assault on the Marines, President Ronald Regan pulled US forces out of Lebanon. Israeli troops would leave, unconditionally, 15 years after that.
In Lebanon, the Syrian-Iranian alliance prevailed.
Indeed, “in every single meeting” Crocker had as ambassador to Syria (1998-2001), with President Hafez al-Assad, who “knew my experience in Lebanon, at his hands,” Crocker recalled, he “would find a way to say something like, ‘Ihna tawil al-nafs’ - we are long of breath.”
Rep. Steve Chabot (R, Ohio) last week warned of the danger of similar events occurring in Iraq at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.
“The intelligence community now believes that Iranian proxies are the primary threat to our personnel in Iraq,” Chabot stated.
Chabot’s statement marks the first official US warning of the danger to US forces posed by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Otherwise, US officials have maintained, at least publicly, that no serious problem exists.
“After we spent so much blood and treasure,” Chabot continued, “we must not let Iran reap the benefits of those sacrifices that were made at such a high cost, by so many of our troops.”
The day after Crocker cautioned the Atlantic Council about the vulnerability of US troops in Syria, similar warnings were voiced at a seminar at the Hudson Institute.
“The Iranians are deploying Iraqi Shia militias, with Government of Iraq authority, and possibly with weapons provided by the United States, to Syria,” Jennifer Cafarella, a Senior Intelligence Planner at the Institute for the Study of War, stated. She stressed that US troops “are vulnerable.”
Michael Pregent, who served as an advisor to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and then his successor, Gen. Ray Odierno, warned, “IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]-Quds Force militias are actually basing around US bases” in Iraq.
The US has “such a small footprint” there that “we are hostages,” he said.
Pregent has advised moving the US Army’s Train and Equip program in Iraq to the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by Nadia Riva