Over the past several weeks, US military actions within Syria have been less and less ISIS-centric, with a handful of operations targeting Shi’ite militias in southern Syria, and even shooting down a Syrian government aircraft over the weekend.
This isn’t just the US idly getting into one-off fights in the course of a war they’re already fighting in Syria, but rather is reflective of a push by White House officials, with multiple National Security Council members looking at the Syrian War less as a fight against ISIS and more as a chance to pick a fight with Iran.
The Pentagon has made clear they object, with Defense Secretary James Mattis personally rejecting multiple proposals related to this. Still, attacks on Shi’ite militias whenever they got sort of close to a US-backed rebel base, and a public narrative presenting the militias as necessarily in league with Iran, have found the US heading down that path anyhow.
This isn’t a new battle. The Pentagon has been battling the CIA in recent years in a rather public fight over the war, with the CIA keen to make the war about regime change, and by extension fighting Iran, while the Pentagon has sought to keep the focus on fighting ISIS.
This is increasingly becoming a battle with the White House, as the administration’s review of policy toward various different nations has included a review of Iran, and as with all the other reviews, it seems to be leaning heavily toward picking new fights, and in the case of Iran, that fight is most readily fought in Syria.
Since the early days of Syria’s Civil War, there have been hawks viewing it as a potential proxy war against a key Iranian ally, and that view has only grown, which combined with the Trump Administration’s general hostility toward Iran, is pushing the US into widening their involvement in Syria.