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Rand Paul Wants to End Undeclared War in Syria

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul plans to force a vote this week on a joint resolution to remove all U.S. troops from Syria within 30 days, according to sources on Capitol Hill familiar with his plans.

“The American people have had enou…

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul plans to force a vote this week on a joint resolution to remove all U.S. troops from Syria within 30 days, according to sources on Capitol Hill familiar with his plans.

“The American people have had enough of endless wars in the Middle East,” Paul told The Intercept by email. “Yet, 900 U.S. troops remain in Syria with no vital U.S. interest at stake, no definition of victory, no exit strategy, and no congressional authorization to be there.”

The U.S. conflict in Syria is just one of several forever wars — including conflicts in Niger and Somalia — that continue to smolder more than two decades after 9/11 and more than two years after President Joe Biden declared that, for the first time in 20 years, the United States was “not at war.” 

Heather Brandon-Smith, the legislative director for militarism and human rights for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group, welcomed Paul’s effort as a necessary check on the executive branch. “A debate really needs to happen about ‘why are we in Syria?’ and ‘what threat to the U.S. homeland do the groups we are fighting pose?’” she told The Intercept. “The U.S. has been engaged in these wars for two decades and Congress has been derelict in its duties while the executive branch has vastly expanded these wars. So Sen. Paul’s War Powers Resolution is one of the few vehicles that serves to force Congress to take a vote.”

The U.S. military has been conducting operations in Syria since 2014. America’s bases there and in neighboring Iraq ostensibly exist to conduct “counter-ISIS missions,” despite the fact that the Pentagon concluded in 2021 that the Islamic State in Syria “probably lacks the capability to target the U.S. homeland.” A recent inspectors general report to Congress noted that “ISIS capabilities remained degraded” and that the group now operates in “survival mode” in both Iraq and Syria.

War in the Shadows

For almost 10 years, the U.S. has battled a rotating cast of enemies in Syria, including the Syrian Armed Forces and pro-Syrian government forces; terrorist organizations such as ISIS; Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; Iranian-backed militias; the Russian-backed Wagner Group; and the armed forces of Turkey, according to Paul’s bill, which notes that Congress has not declared war against Syria or any group in that country.

“The United States cannot fix Syria. Yet we still have 900 troops in eastern Syria for eight years, going on nine,” said Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria for the Obama administration, in a briefing to congressional staffers this week. “I’m puzzled that we haven’t had a national debate on what U.S. troops are doing in Syria four years after they captured the last territory from ISIS. We need to have that debate about the authorization of military force. There needs to be a definition of the mission of U.S. forces. There needs to be a set of metrics to measure their success or failure. And there need to be benchmarks and timelines. Otherwise, you’re in a forever war.”

Since the October outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, bases in both Syria and Iraq have come under regular attack as part of an undeclared war between the U.S. and Iran and its surrogate militias.

Between October 17 and December 4, U.S. forces on these bases have been attacked at least 76 times — 40 times in Syria, 36 in Iraq — according to figures provided to The Intercept by the Pentagon. The strikes have been conducted by a mix of one-way attack drones, rockets, and close-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. has increasingly responded by targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-affiliated militant group facilities and personnel.

U.S. military outposts in Syria and Iraq are also plagued by thefts by criminal gangs and militias, according to an Intercept investigation. The losses of “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” — including Javelin guided missile launch systems, drones, high-explosive grenades, and armor-piercing rounds — from 2020 to 2022 were detailed in exclusive documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

Paul’s resolution, introduced on November 15, cites the 1973 War Powers Resolution — which was “designed to limit the U.S. president’s ability to initiate or escalate military actions abroad” — and directs the Biden administration to remove the U.S. military from hostilities in Syria since there has been neither a declaration of war nor any other specific authorization from the legislative branch. 

Paul’s current legislation follows his October effort to require the U.S. to withdraw its troops from another long-running, undeclared quasi-war in Niger. That effort failed, as did another proposal earlier this year by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz directing the removal of U.S. troops from Syria. Gaetz’s War Powers Resolution to withdraw most U.S. forces from Somalia received bipartisan support in the spring but did not garner sufficient votes. New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman has also failed in repeated attempts to limit the U.S. military presence in Syria and restore congressional war powers in regard to the U.S. conflict there.

“Some Automatic Pilot Policy”

The Intercept contacted the offices of Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — both of whom pledged in 2019 to help bring the forever wars to a “responsible and expedient” end — as well as Rep. Bowman to inquire if they supported Paul’s bid to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. None provided answers in time for publication.

The Biden administration claims that U.S. military personnel are deployed to “strategically significant locations in Syria to conduct operations, in partnership with local, vetted ground forces, to address continuing terrorist threats emanating from Syria.” 

Ford questioned this supposed strategic significance, ticking off the names of Syrian towns and asking if the congressional staffers had heard of them. “There’s a reason you haven’t: because they’re not vital to U.S. national security interests. I simply fail to understand why we have U.S. troops there,” he said. “Troops should be the last resort. It should not be some automatic pilot policy that you carry over from year to year — especially not when these troops are being fired at.”

Paul echoed those sentiments. “If we are going to deploy our young men and women in uniform to Syria to fight and potentially give their life for some supposed cause, shouldn’t we as their elected representatives at least debate the merits of sending them there?” he asked in his statement provided to The Intercept. “Shouldn’t we do our constitutional duty and debate if the mission we are sending them on is achievable?”

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This content originally appeared on The Intercept and was authored by Nick Turse.

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