Senate Votes in Favour to Keep US Troops in Syria Amid Iran-backed Attacks

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The US Senate on December 7 overwhelmingly voted down a bill 13-84 that would have required President Joe Biden to withdraw the roughly 900 troops stationed in Syria.

Sen. Rand Paul, secured a vote on the bill after an onslaught of attacks from Iran-backed proxies in recent months targeting US forces in the war-torn country. These militias have launched at least 76 attacks on US forces in both Syria and Iraq since October 7, which marked the start of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ massacre of Israelis.

“It seems to me, though our 900 troops have no viable mission in Syria, that they’re sitting ducks,” Paul said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “They’re a tripwire to a larger war, and without a clear-cut mission, I don’t think they can adequately defend themselves, yet they remain in Syria.”

“Our troops in Syria regularly come under attack, not from ISIS but from Iranian-backed militias,” he added, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Biden administration carried out retaliatory airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in Syria in response to the attacks, including strikes on weapons, ammunition, storage and training facilities. Further compounding matters, Turkey bombarded US-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria in September after a group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, attacked the Interior Ministry in Ankara.

“We also had American troops take fire from our own NATO ally Turkey,” Paul said. “Just this past September, we returned the favour by shooting down an armed Turkish drone that came within 500 yards of US forces.”

But the overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats sided with the Biden administration and opted to vote in favour of keeping the 900 troops in Syria. “Passage of such a resolution would be a gift to Iran and its terrorist network,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said ahead of the vote. “Driving American troops from the Middle East is exactly what they’d like to see.”

“It would encourage Iran’s proxies to open a northern front in the territorial war against Israel,” he added, referring to the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.