and intentionally attacked U.S. and partnered forces in Eastern

Several hundred pro-n regime fighters launched a “coordinated attack” against the (SDF) – the main U.S. pattern in – in Eastern Deir ez-Zour province on February 7. The U.S. has long had its own military personnel in the base. The U.S. responded with successful force protection strikes.

The U.S. must help stabilize Eastern in order to prevent ISIS from returning to its stronghold in Ar-Raqqa City, from which anti-ISIS coalition drove the terrorist organization in late 2017. The U.S. is using its primary ground partner – the predominantly Kurdish (SDF) – to restore some semblance of civilian live in formerly ISIS-held terrain. U.S. military personnel advise these partners. These efforts also serve to contain the influence of and ian proxies in Eastern , which the U.S. has partially constrained to the south side of the Euphrates.

, , and the n regime planned the operation in advance. They began preparing the attack weeks in advance and aimed to increase ian presence east of the Euphrates river in order to seize valuable oil and gas fields. and have for months sought to reintegrate by force critical areas in Eastern held by the SDF- including Ar-Raqqa City as well as key oil and natural gas fields in Eastern – back into the Assad Regime. The oil and gas fields are critical for stabilizing the n economy and the regime of Bashar al Assad. They also provide a source of revenue for these n and ian efforts.

used proxy partners and official messaging to obfuscate its involvement, using a hybrid fare technique common in Ukraine. private military contractors and Lebanese Hezbollah [1] participated in the attack. n officers maintained continuous communication with U.S. military officials through the deconfliction hotline during the attack in order to obfuscate ’s direct role in the incident. both supported the attack and simultaneously gave the impression of genuine efforts to prevent the attack in order to confuse senior U.S. decision makers.

U.S. deterrence in is failing. n and ian-backed forces had already directly challenged U.S. forces and their partners twice in 2017.  and conducted similar probing attacks near Ar-Raqqa City and the U.S.-Rebel Base on the n-i Border in mid-2017 prompting the U.S. to conduct protective strikes. and successfully concluded operations to limit U.S. freedom of movement of in Eastern , including the seizure of Abu Kamal on the i-n Border in November 2017. The U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition is also struggling to deter similar attacks by against U.S. partners in Northern .  The U.S. has forces deployed between Turkish-backed forces and U.S. partners near in Northern in order to deter an expansion of Turkish operations. Senior U.S. officials are conducting diplomatic visits to to negotiate a de-escalation of territory around as a future flashpoint between Turkish-backed forces and U.S. partners.

Turkish military operations in Northern have created opportunities that and tried to exploit. The Turks invaded ’s Northern Afrin region on January 20 to oust from the area Kurdish forces, some of which are fighting an insurgency against . The (SDF) in Eastern n and other Kurdish forces consider losing a primarily Kurdish district to as an existential threat. SDF reinforcements have therefore deployed to northwestern in order to defend Kurdish-majority Afrin. These reinforcements included the U.S. armed n Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the main component of the SDF – and several other SDF-subcomponents including the U.S.-trained Raqqa Internal Security Forces intended to stabilize post-ISIS Ar-Raqqa City. The battle against in northwestern distracts the SDF from the fight against ISIS in Eastern .

The U.S. is drawing down in and while all other actors are escalating. The four-star headquarters responsible for the Middle East announced on February 7 that the U.S. was drawing down some of its air power and intelligence assets from and . U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and have tried to isolate the fight against ISIS from the rest of the n Civil . In contrast, U.S. enemies, adversaries, and even allies correctly see the problems in as intertwined. The U.S. must recognize it cannot sustainably pursue its objectives in without taking into account the objectives of , , and . The U.S. must formulate a comprehensive policy and commit the necessary resources to accomplish American interests rather than declare arbitrary victory and withdraw.

Originally published in