'Bashar is Staying', Says Bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not likely to be ousted from power.
In an interview with TIME magazine published overnight, the powerful Saudi prince said he hopes that Assad will not become a “puppet” for Tehran.
“Bashar is staying,” he said. “But I believe that Bashar’s interests is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want they want to do.”
Separately, MBS said that he wants the U.S. military to maintain a presence in Syria, despite President Donald Trump’s declaration that American forces will be pulled from the war-torn country in the near future.
“We believe American troops should stay for at least the mid-term, if not the long-term,” the young Saudi leader said.
Bin Salman, who is midway through a multi-city tour in the United States, said the American troop presence inside Syria is the last effort stopping Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-enemy, from continuing to expand influence with regional allies. U.S. forces inside the country also allow Washington to have a say in Syria’s future, he said.
Bin Salman warned that Iran, through proxy militias and regional allies, will establish a. overland supply route that leads from Beirut through Syria and Iraq to Tehran.
The so-called “Shiite Crescent” would give Iran a greater foothold in a tumultuous region through a string of allies.
The U.S. maintains a remote base at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, in the middle of that corridor. It’s there that Special Operations forces coordinate with Syrian opposition fighters to wipe out the remaining Islamic State fighters holed up in a series of towns along the Euphrates River and a stretch of desert straddling the Iraq-Syria border.
“If you take those troops out from east Syria, you will lose that checkpoint,” bin Salman said. “And this corridor could create a lot of things in the region.”
The Saudi leader made his remarks on Syria just hours after Trump told a cheering crowd in Richfield, Ohio that U.S. troops will soon be pulled out. “By the way, we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said, referring to the Islamic State group. “We’re coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now, very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out.”
Trump’s comments were a departure from the previously stated positions of senior Pentagon and State Department officials, who have said the U.S. will keep troops inside the country to stamp out the last remaining fighters and prevent a new group from forming. An American service member was killed in Syria Thursday by an improvised explosive device, U.S. officials said Friday. A total of 14 U.S. troops have been killed fighting IS in Iraq and Syria since the operation began nearly four years ago.
There are currently about 2,000 U.S. troops working with Syrian Democratic Forces to re-capture territory from IS.