The United States needs to maintain a military presence in the Middle East after the battle against the Islamic State to block Iran's attempt to carve out a land corridor connecting Tehran to the Mediterranean, according to a new report by two prominent Washington think tanks.
The report, released Thursday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for New American Security, recommends the United States collaborate with its coalition partners to leave troops at al-Tanf, a strategic Syrian border crossing with Jordan and Iraq, to cut off Iranian use of the strategic route.
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In northern Syria, the report says American troops should leverage its close alliance with Kurdish forces to prevent Iran from shipping weapons into the country. Iran routinely sends weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah terrorists on the Syrian and Lebanese border.
Iran has been racing against U.S.-backed forces to establish areas of influence across Iraq and Syria to hold communication lines and more easily move its forces, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and other Shia militias in the region. The so-called land bridge would leverage Iranian power in the region and give its troops maximum battlefield flexibility and diversified supply routes.
Of particular interest is the border crossing between the southern Anbar and Deir Ezzor provinces as the territorial fight against the Islamic State enters its final phase.
The report says American-backed forces would effectively cut off Iran's planned corridor if they retake the territory from ISIS. Even if Iranian proxies arrive to the region first, the report says the terrain is "highly inhospitable" for Shia militia groups.
The report warns the United States will not be able to fully block Iranian movement through Syria even if it follows through on all of its recommendations given the series of power voids throughout the country.
"Security vacuums plague eastern Syria and will continue to for years to come, and in that environment Iran will find opportunities to increase its influence and move materiel and personnel," the report notes.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he supports maintaining U.S. troops to support Iraqi forces in the country after ISIS operations come to an end.
Sunni and Kurdish forces have also expressed support for American forces to remain in the region after ISIS. They view U.S. troops as a way to uphold security and reduce Iran's Shiite influence in Iraq.