Syria’s military on Monday captured an enclave in southern Damascus from Islamic State militants following a ruinous monthlong battle, bringing the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.
The gains freed President Bashar Assad’s forces to move with allied militiamen on remaining rebel-held territory in the south near the border with Israel, as Syria’s chief ally Iran comes under growing pressure from the Trump administration to withdraw its troops from the country.
Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been instrumental in helping Assad’s over-stretched forces recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country’s center and north, building a military presence that has alarmed Israel and its U.S. ally, which is now looking to constrain Iran’s activities.
Iranian officials have vowed to stay on in Syria for as long as needed, setting the stage for a potential confrontation as Washington seeks to tighten the screws on Tehran following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered with Iran under President Barack Obama and world powers.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran with the “strongest sanctions in history” if Tehran doesn’t change course. In his first major foreign policy speech since taking the post as the top U.S. diplomat, he issued a list of demands that he said should be included in any new…