All US Troops Leaving Syria Will Head to Western Iraq

SecDef says troops will conduct anti-ISIS operations in Iraq instead

According to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the current plan is that all US troops leaving Syria will be redeployed into western Iraq. The troops there will continue to engage in anti-ISIS operations.

How that’s going to work isn’t entirely clear. After all, there aren’t really any ISIS fighters in western Iraq anymore. Though Esper suggested that the US wasn’t ruling out crossing into Syria for some operations, right now there aren’t many ISIS fighters there either.

This will be a move of more than 700 troops into Iraq, which is likely to raise eyebrows in Iraq, as all indications are that the US is at, or over, the troop cap negotiated with the Iraqi government, and this surprise deployment comes amid calls from Iraqi lawmakers to expel the US troops already there.

It’s clear why the US would like to just move the troops to western Iraq, as it’s close, would make for a convenient area to stage back into Syria at any time, and also puts more US ground troops adjacent to neighboring Iran, always a top US military priority. Yet the risk of turning Iraq into a staging ground for US troops into neighboring countries has always been a big problem for Iraqi officials, and that controversy will continue.

The obvious problems with this redeployment shows that the administration probably didn’t do a lot of pre-planning on what would happen with the troops, and that officials fairly quickly decided that keeping the troops in the region, instead of actually withdrawing them, was the priority.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.