The U.S., which once supported jihadist militants trying to overthrow the Syrian government and later focused on Kurdish militants, said its current presence was necessary as long as the threat of a resurgent Islamic State and other jihadist groups remained.
"We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to -- to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said. The United States currently has approximately 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, where they have been helping train and advise Kurdish and Arab partner forces. Pahon told AFP that the U.S. troop commitment would be "conditions-based," meaning no timeline will determine any pull out.
"To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground or plot external attacks," he said. "The United States will sustain a 'conditions-based' military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas."
"We are going to be in Syria for some time yet. I don't want to say that's 10 years, I also don't want to say it's not," Pahon said.
The open-ended US commitment in Syria will likely rile Russia, which since late 2015 has conducted a separate military campaign. Unlike Russia, the United States is not in Syria at the request or approval of the Syrian government.
America's support to the Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has infuriated Turkey. "Operating under recognized international authorities, the US military will continue to support local partner forces in Syria to stabilize liberated territory," Pahon said.