Trump has publicly let it be known he wants to leave Syria. Moreover it has been reported that he has been privately talking up a withdrawal for months. This goes a long way towards explaining a most peculiar situation in eastern Syria.
As you will recall much of the fighting in 2017 in Syria was marked by the steady rollback of ISIS by the Syrian army on one side, and the US-backed Kurdish-dominated SDF militias on the other. At the final stages of that fight there even developed “the race for Euphrates”. The race to see which of these two faction would capture more of eastern Syria, particularly the oil-rich land just east of the Euphrates.
As it was the final delineation more or less ended up following the river, with the Russian-backed Syrian army to the east and Americans and the Kurds to the east. In fact, now the US military insists that Syria to the east of the Euphrates falls into its occupation zone and has twice lashed out against the Syrian army (and Russian contractors) to the east of the river with force, killing a hundred of them.
In the course of the race the Syrian army crossed the river but a hurried US-Kurdish advance (helped along by bribing tribes which had been pressed into ISIS service) launched in reaction cut it off and allowed the SDF to take most of the oil fields. These frantic advances meant that by mid-November ISIS was reduced to a tiny pocket along the southernmost Syrian portion of the Euphrates on the border with Iraq, squeezed between the Syrian army to the west, and the US and the Kurds to the east.
Except where up until that point the two forces were racing frantically to seize as much territory as possible the US disposition abruptly changed. Where the Syrian army with the help of Iraqi militias cleared its side of the pocket by early January, the eastern half of the pocket bordering US and Kurdish forces is still ISIS-held.
For four months now the US military, supposedly in Syria to defeat ISIS, has tolerated a puny ISIS pocket that is there for the taking. (And simultaneously warned the Syrian government away from left-bank Euphrates.)
The Pentagon proclaimed in February that all military operations to take the pocket had to be stopped because of the Turkish invasion of Afrin which saw some of the Kurdish fighters leave to face the Turks, but this is bunk. There wasn’t a meaningful effort to take this last ISIS enclave even before Afrin, nor is there one now that the Turkish offensive has ended. More importantly the US claims the SDF is 60,000 strong with up to 20,000 of those being Arab fighters who don’t care about Afrin. 20,000 Arabs and 2,000 Americans should easily take the last few villages and towns ISIS controls in a narrow strip of land next to open and flat desert. — If there is a will to actually make the effort.
But actually doing that would leave the US military with no choice but to inform Trump that defeat of ISIS has now been accomplished, which we now know for him means the Pentagon should pack up and leave. Thus a tiny ISIS enclave survives so that the Pentagon can continue to occupy 25 percent of Syria.
Meanwhile, for the sake of the whims and the needs of US generals, thousands of Syrians have to continue suffering ISIS rule with all the barbarity that entails. It has been reported that preparing for the final battle the group has redoubled its efforts to conscript and train child soldiers. In essence Syrian parents are having their children kidnapped and turned into janisaries to be eventually blown away by American firepower because Pentagon generals need to protect their mission from a successful end.