Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants the US military to be present in Syria, despite President Donald Trump's statement that US forces will be withdrawn from the war-torn country in the near future.
"We believe in US troops should stay at least in the medium term if not in the long run," he told TIME in a detailed interview.
Bin Salman, a 32-year-old who had interrupted his successor last year when he next lined the line for the Saudi throne, has emerged as the most powerful Saudi ruler in decades. In addition to his appointment as Crown Prince, he serves as First Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Economic and Development Council and Minister of Defense.
Bin Salman, in the middle of a multi-city tour of the United States, said US troops in Syria were the last attempt to stop Saudi Arabia's archenemy from further expanding the influence of its regional allies. US forces within the country also allow Washington to have a say in the future of Syria.
Iran will use proxy militias and regional allies to build an overland supply route from Beirut through Syria and Iraq to Tehran, Bin Salman. The so-called "Shiite Crescent" would give Iran more support through a series of allies in a turbulent region.
The US maintains a remote base at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, in the middle of this corridor. There, the special forces with Syrian opposition fighters coordinate the remaining ISIS fighters who have entrenched themselves in a number of cities along the Euphrates and a desert on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
"If you take these troops out of eastern Syria, you will lose this checkpoint," Bin Salman said. "And this corridor could do a lot of things in the region."
Bin Salman is the architect of the three-year conflict in Yemen, where Saudi troops fought Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The war has plunged the poorest country in the Arab world into a humanitarian crisis worsened daily by famine, widespread diseases and the death of civilians in the crossfire.
The Saudi leader made his remarks to crowds in Richfield, Ohio just hours after a jubilant speech over Syria that US troops would soon be pulled out. "By the way, we'll beat hell out of IS," Trump said. "We'll be out of Syria very soon, let the other people take care of it soon, we'll come out soon."
Trump's comments were a departure from the aforementioned positions of high-ranking Pentagon and State Department officials who said the US would keep troops in the country, around the last remaining fighters, and prevent a new group from forming. An American service member was killed in Syria on Thursday by an improvised explosive device, US officials said Friday. Since the beginning of the operation almost four years ago, a total of 1
Currently, some 2,000 US soldiers are working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to re-invade ISIS territory, the self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. ISIS is on the brink of defeat as a conventional military force. Although they no longer control a major city in Iraq or Syria, the fighting is still ongoing. But, despite Salman's wishes, American forces are not inside the country to counterbalance Iran.
Trump's appointment of John Bolton, an outspoken critic of Iran's regional dominance, could reshape himself as a national security adviser. American foreign policy toward Tehran
Supported by Iranian military aid and the Russian Air Force, Syrian President Bashar Assad has the Islamist dominated rebel groups that emerged in the chaos of the Syrian revolution of 2011, almost beaten. The insurgents still hold territory shards, but they have no hope of questioning Assad's power position. As a result, Iran has extended its influence and reached in Syria.
Bin Salman said that Assad is unlikely to be ousted from power. He said he hopes that Assad will not become a "puppet" for Tehran.
"Bashar stays," he said. "But I believe Bashar's interest is not that the Iranians do what they want, what they want."