Syrian regime forces, buoyed by Russian air power, have pushed into rebel territory in the Syrian city of Deraa, violating the de-escalation zone agreement negotiated between the United States, Russia and Jordan last year.
However, the U.S. military will not be stepping in to enforce the failing cease-fire.
While the U.S. State Department expressed concern over the offensive, a message to locals from the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, has made it clear that American forces have no intention of stepping into the fray.
“We are still advising the Russians and the Syrian regime not to take any military action that violates the de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest,” the June 19 message reads.
“But we need to clarify our position: We understand you need to make your decision based on your interests and the interests of your families and faction, as you see them. You should not base your decision on the assumption or expectation of military intervention by us.”
“This decision is in your hands alone,” the message concludes.
Al-Monitor reported it confirmed with U.S. State Department officials that the message was authentic.
When asked what sort of message this sends to other U.S.-backed groups in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, Pentagon officials said the situations are not the same.
“To be clear, the coalition does not back ‘rebels’ in Syria, and we are not operating in territories under the regime's control,” Army Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the anit-ISIS coalition, told Military Times.
“Operation Inherent Resolve and its SDF partners are not engaged in the Syrian civil war against the Assad regime and its supporters, nor do we seek to be,” he added. “We remain focused on our mission to defeat ISIS and set conditions for follow-on conditions to increase regional stability.”
The Deraa offensive is especially concerning given the destabilizing effects it could have on nearby Jordan, as well as Israel’s Golan Heights.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said that Washington leadership appears to be in agreement that Assad is going to retake rebel land not actively claimed by a foreign power, like Turkey and the United States.
“Washington seems to have decided that Israel can look after itself on the Golan [Heights] and can draw red lines for Iran in Syria,” Landis added. “Israel would like the U.S. to step up to this task and has suggested that there could be a future war in Syria over Iranian influence, but this is probably heavy breathing. Iran is in no condition to go to war against Israel and would surely lose. Israel has claimed unimpeded success in bombing Iranian hardware, missile sites, and bases in Syria.”
The lack of a desire to push back against Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces also lends credence to the idea that the SDF will eventually be urged to negotiate with the Russian-backed regime.
The SDF units — comprised of Kurdish and Syrian fighters — have been repeatedly told to focus on the anti-ISIS mission that remains unsettled in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.
The coalition was forced to hold an “operational pause” in the fight against ISIS in March, after Kurdish SDF members went north to fight Turkish forces in Afrin, Syria.
Kurdish forces also appear to be losing their bid to stay in northeast Syria’s strategic town of Manbij after a deal between U.S. and Turkish officials will reportedly necessitate their departure.
”The SDF is trying to hedge its bets,” Landis said. “It's leaders have called for opening talks with Damascus about federalism and autonomy agreements. The recent deal that the United States came to with Turkey in Manbij, is a bad sign for the Kurds.”
Only months earlier, U.S. leaders said they would not cede ground in Manbij. But now, reality appears to have sunk in, as the United States still needs Turkey and is willing to make concessions to Ankara to keep relations from deteriorating, Landis said.
“Deraa is further proof that the U.S. is trimming its commitments in Syria,” he added.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.