At least fifty-six military personnel have been injured. In response, the U.S. launched retaliatory air strikes and has sent about 900 more troops to the region.
This bolstering of forces is the wrong move. In fact, the U.S. is overdue to drawdown its forces from Syria.
Why drawdown completely? The answer is simple. The small contingent of U.S. forces in Syria, especially, are sitting ducks for further attacks in support of missions where the costs of continuing those missions now far outstrip their strategic benefits. Recent attacks bring this mismatch between costs and benefits into sharp relief. These incidents should also serve as a warning for potential dangers if U.S. policy fails to change course.
U.S. forces were deployed to Syria in 2015 to fight the ISIS caliphate. Today, fighting ISIS remains the official mission even though the territorial caliphate has long been eliminated. Two additional unofficial missions for these troops include deterring Iranian mischief/influence and preventing Assad from ending the war on his own terms.
None of these missions are worth the potential risks they carry today. In fact, the outsized burden of their real and potential costs helps explain why forces should be drawn down.
First, ISIS has been largely wiped out. The caliphate was defeated in March 2019, nearly five years ago. While preventing a resurgence of the group is important, U.S. forces do not need to be on the ground to achieve this objective. A combination of local actors (among them, Kurds and Turks) and U.S. forces operating from over the horizon should be sufficient to get the job done.
Some may counter that U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria today are coming under attack from other Islamist terrorists beside ISIS, thus giving a reason for U.S. forces to stay. True, these attacks come from Islamist groups, but those groups lack the capability of global reach and lack the intent of attacking the U.S. homeland or our European allies. If there is anything 9/11 taught us, it is that we need to avoid overreach when we go after groups that can only harm us if we station troops and bases within their range. If our troops weren't in Syria and Iraq, in short, they wouldn't be coming under attack there right now. Given the lack of vital U.S. interests in a permanent on-the-ground presence in Syria, that's a reason to drawdown, not stay.