Pentagon Agrees Cordoning off Eastern Syria From Syrian Army Would Be 'Land Grab'

US military claims it would be 'perfectly happy' to see the Syrian army take back the entire Euphrates valley from ISIS before its proxies

White House civilian advisors are campaigning for a broader war in Syria to deny the Syrian army the Euphrates valley. The same report which revealed this, however said Defense Secretary Mattis and Dunford of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly opposed the scheme.

That may be more believable than it sounds. Speaking to reporters last Friday Department of Defense spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon repeatedly claimed the Pentagon had no problem at all with the Syrian army taking eastern Syria: 

You know, now that the regime has moved in, and they have made some significant, you know, progress, as it looks, towards moving to Abu Kamal and perhaps Deir Ezzour, if they want to fight ISIS in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then, you know, that -- that would be welcome.

We as a coalition are not in the land-grab business. We're in the killing ISIS business, and that is what we want to do. And if -- if the Syrian regime wants to do that, and they are going to, again, put forth a concerted effort and show that they are -- are doing just that in Abu Kamal or Deir Ezzour or elsewhere, that means that we don't have to do that in those locations.

So I guess that -- what I'm saying is, in the At Tanf area, we will continue to train our partner forces.  We will continue to do patrols in and around At Tanf in the Hamad desert. But if our access to Abu Kamal is shut off because the regime is there, that's okay.

"That would be welcome", "that's okay". The Pentagon spokesman said the same thing over and over again:

Well if the Syrian regime -- and it looks like they are making a concerted effort to move into ISIS held areas.  And if they show that they can do that, that is not a bad sign. We are here to fight ISIS as a coalition, but if others want to fight ISIS and defeat them, then we absolutely have no problem with that. And as they move eastward toward Abu Kamal and to Deir Ezzour, if we -- as long as we can de-conflict and make sure that we can focus on what it is we're there to do, without having any kind of strategic mishaps with the regime or with pro-regime forces or with Russians, then that is -- we're perfectly happy with that.

...

And again, if they are showing a concerted effort towards looking to defeat ISIS and can show that they are doing that and they are actually defeating ISIS, then, like I said, that is not a bad thing. That is what we're there to do, but if others are there to do it as well, then -- then we're okay with that.

Dillon even claimed the US now considered itself boxed-in at al-Tanf in southern Syria and was going to sensibly accept that. It would limit its patrols:

So if the regime is -- has moved into an area that is towards Abu Kamal, then we are going to be limited to how far out we do patrols with our partner forces.

And would not attempt an eastward break-out from Tanf: 

I think that the only way we could get to Abu Kamal right now, if that were something that was even on the -- the table, it would have to be from a different direction or a different location.

Dillon claimed the US military was not thinking about the lower Euphrates right now—it was focused solely on the ongoing battle for Raqqa. Once that battle was over the US would see it where it was, and would pursue ISIS further if necessary, but if the Russian/Iranian-backed Syrian army was already in control of eastern Syria by that time that was fine too:

Our focus right now is on the fight in Raqqa.  And we're supporting our, you know, Syrian Democratic Forces there.

So, we are going to see that through. And once we call the liberation, or once Raqqa has been liberated, then we have to see, then, where else is there to go, where else is there ISIS-held territory.

And right now, we know that ISIS-held territory is along the middle Euphrates river valley. But is that going to, you know, still be true at the end of the fight in Raqqa? We're going to have to see that.

In fact the US military allegedly sees this scenario (Syrian army taking the rest of eastern Syria rather than US-backed SDF) as a distinct possibility:

Q:  Would you say that it could be the regime that finally leads the last battle against ISIS in Syria in the Euphrates River Valley?

COL. DILLON:  I mean, I'm not going to -- I will say it is -- is it likely or probable? I don't know. But that could be the case. 

Why is the Pentagon being just so darn sensible?

It is going out of its way to spell out that the push from the National Security Council for a wider war involving "direct conflict" with the Syrian army is not yet US policy, and that Pentagon does not expect it to become policy.

There could be any number of reasons for that. Perhaps it is a ruse of war. Perhaps given that they've been unexpectedly boxed-in at al-Tanf, and given that Kurdish militias don't want a part in an anti-Iranian crusade the US generals have decided to be realistic and concede. Perhaps Foreign Policy was spot on and the generals opposed the harebrained plan of White House amateurs from the start.

In any case, quite remarkably the Pentagon spokesman actually says if the US military had a different stance it would be a sign it was "in the land-grab business". Moreover the bit about how the US was right now focused on Raqqa and would only move down the Euphrates if the Syrians had not already done so almost sounds like an invitation to the Russians and Syrians to please hurry up and make good progress on the river valley before the crazies in the White House get Trump's ear and everything goes to hell.

However, at the same time if the Pentagon is being so sensible now, and is not (was not) "in the land-grab business" then what was all that business with downing the Syrian attack jet, shooting down Iranian-supplied drones, bombing the Syrian army, setting up a base in southern Syria and proclaiming a kill zone around it?

It definitely seems that at one point the US military pursued—however half-heartedly— a variant of the strategy now pushed by Trump advisers in the National Security Council, and now publicly disavowed by Colonel Dillon.

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