Though declining to provide any numbers, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced Tuesday that US diplomats on the ground in Syria “have been doubled in number.” Officials later clarified this referred to a recent increase in State Department personnel.
Mattis presented this as part of a general shift in US focus as ISIS gets closer to being defeated, saying that “as we see the military operations becoming less, we will see the diplomatic effort now able to take root.”
Yet the US has no embassy in Syria, and officials aren’t at all clear where these diplomats are, or what they’re doing. The Pentagon has repeatedly insisted that troops in Syria aren’t leaving as well, suggesting that the state of war isn’t really going to wind down all the way.
It’s also not apparent why US diplomats would need to be in Syria at all, since diplomacy with other nations involved could more easily happen through direct channels (in nations like Turkey and Russia), while the US presumably will continue to refuse talks with Syria or Iran.