The vast empty deserts of western Syria and Iraq are soon to be the new frontline of the ongoing conflict, with US forces scrambling to establish a military presence in the region.
Officials are loudly trumpeting the idea that, with the fall of al-Qaim in Iraq and Abu Kamal in Syria, ISIS is “defeated,” and has lost their “last” strongholds in both countries.
In reality, ISIS fighters have been taking to the desert for weeks on end in both countries.
U.S. officials seem to have been fully aware of this, even as they cheered the “victories” in the war, and US forces are scrambling to set up a series of desert outposts across the remote parts of western Iraq.
The small outposts reflect how big of a “front line” the desert is, and how much ground there is to cover in trying to have U.S. troops in the area whenever fighting breaks out. It also means small numbers of US troops in remote areas, which also seems like it makes them ambush targets.
The U.S. presence is likely to ultimately span both sides of the border, with an unknown number of US troops also in the eastern Syrian desert, which is also awash in ISIS forces.
With the US also talking up preventing an “Iran to Beirut” string of Shia-held territory, these forces setting up shop in Sunni territory are likely to be setting the stage for clashes against Shia militias as well in the long run.
Top photo | U.S. Marines prepare to build a military site in western Anbar, Iraq. The US’ newest outpost is in this dusty corner of western Iraq near the border with Syria where several hundred American Marines operate close to the battlefront, Nov 7, 2017. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)