Washington wants German troops in Syria to help fill gap left by departing Americans

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The US wants Germany to send troops to Syria to partially backfill the diminishing American presence there – even though Berlin rules out any intervention in that war and Damascus sees Western forces there as “invaders.”

Washington has formally asked Berlin to take its place in the Syrian conflict, replacing a certain portion of the US contingent, Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told Die Welt’s Sunday edition and DPA news agency, adding that he awaits a response from the German government this month. He said the request directly related to the ongoing US drawdown on Syrian soil.

Washington is currently reaching out to coalition members that are against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and are willing to send military personnel to Syria, the diplomat explained. He then sang Germany’s praises, calling the country an important partner in the fight against IS that is able to throw its weight behind the US.

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Jeffrey didn’t ask for a specific number of troops, only making it clear that German personnel would not have to take direct part in hostilities. A German contribution could take forms such as providing air support, logistics, training, and technical assistance, the diplomat hinted.

Berlin joined the US-led anti-IS campaign in 2015, but stopped just short of sending boots on the ground. Their contribution was limited to providing air reconnaissance and in-flight refueling for other Western nations’ flying sorties in Iraq and Syria. Separately, German Navy ships saw occasional deployments in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Germany has generally been wary of a direct intervention in the Syrian crisis. In May of last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel assured the public that the Bundeswehr “will not participate in possible military actions” although it is ready to assist other allies. Over time, that stance has not changed much.

However, the US continued to pile pressure on Germany by year’s end, tasking Ambassador Jeffrey – a fluent German speaker and a career State Department official – with securing Berlin’s consent to engage in the Syrian war. 

Last month, he said that several coalition members will soon announce their decisions to backfill US ground troops leaving Syria. “There’s something pending to look forward to. Very pending,” he told Defense One.

The diplomat did not reveal which countries he expected would provide the troops, but said some of them may choose to participate “quietly,” and “that’s fine by us.” 

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The US has a limited number of troops in Syria, where they entered without the consent of the government or a UN authorization. Most of them are occupying the 55-kilometer zone in southern Syria which at times lay close to IS-infiltrated parts of the country. Damascus has always maintained that the Western military presence in Syria is illegitimate, pledging to liberate “every inch” of the country from uninvited foreign troops.

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