Syria US

U.S. soldiers gather for a brief at a combined joint patrol rehearsal in November in Manbij, Syria.

BEIRUT — The United States’ Kurdish allies had been gearing up for a new fight for weeks, digging trenches and defense tunnels in northeastern Syria in preparation for an offensive Turkey’s president warned was imminent.

On the ground, U.S. troops were bringing in reinforcements through the border with Iraq, beefing up patrols and observation points to prevent friction between the Turks and their Kurdish partners.

Then, in a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump declared he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, declaring the Islamic State group had been vanquished. The move, conveyed in a tweet Wednesday, plunged the volatile region into profound uncertainty, leaving America’s only allies in Syria in the lurch.

The U.S. forces “were as surprised as we were” by the White House decision, said Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

A quick and unplanned withdrawal of American forces opens the door for major turmoil as various groups rush to fill the political and security vacuum, giving leverage to America’s enemies including Russia, Iran and President Bashar Assad’s government. Experts warn the Islamic State group, currently fighting to hang on to its last pockets in Syria, would soon find its way back.

“A full withdrawal sends the wrong signal, one that also will be heard by other counterterrorism partners far from Syria,” said William F. Wechsler, senior adviser for Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council.

Not surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Trump’s decision, saying Thursday the U.S. forces should not have been in Syria to start with. A key ally of Assad, Russia’s military intervention beginning in 2015 turned the tide of the war in the Syrian leader’s favor.

“I agree with the U.S. president, we have made significant progress in fighting terrorism on that territory and dealt serious blows to IS in Syria,” the Russian leader said.

But Trump, whose announcement contradicted his own experts’ assessments, now faces major pushback and political pressure from the Pentagon and other U.S. officials not to withdraw from Syria.

On Thursday, he defended his decision, saying on Twitter: “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever?”

The announcement of a pullout is widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally, even though America’s partnership with the Kurds against the Islamic State group in Syria was always seen as a temporary marriage of convenience. With U.S. air support, the Kurds drove IS from much of northern and eastern Syria in a costly four-year campaign.

In a strongly worded statement laced with bitterness, the Kurdish force said that a premature U.S. pullout before IS militants are defeated would have dangerous repercussions, including a resurgence of the extremist group and a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

“The war against terrorism has not ended and [the Islamic State group] has not been defeated,” the statement said, adding that the fight against IS was at a “decisive” stage that requires even more support from the U.S.-led coalition.

“The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces,” the statement said.

Kurdish officials and commanders met into the night, discussing their response, local residents said. A war monitor said among the options seriously discussed was releasing thousands of Islamic State militants and their families detained in prisons and camps run by the Kurdish forces. It was not clear whether any decision was made, and Kurdish commanders made no mention of the discussions.

The U.S. announcement came at a particularly tense moment in northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a new offensive against the Kurds but in recent days had stepped up the rhetoric, threatening an assault could begin “at any moment.”

Turkey views the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist group and an extension of the insurgency within its borders. U.S. support for the group has strained ties between the two NATO allies.

The Syrian government ultimately wants a foothold back into the oil-rich east, and the loss of U.S. support may push Kurdish forces into negotiating with the Damascus government. This shift in turn would open the door for Iranian-backed militias to enter the region.

“For the Syrian government, I think this is music to its ears,” said Maha Yahya, director of Carnegie Middle East Center. She said a U.S. pullout will force Kurdish forces to negotiate with the regime with a bargaining position that has now been considerably weakened.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in Thursday, saying Israel will “intensify” its activity in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment following the withdrawal of American forces.

Israel’s main interest in Syria is to prevent its archenemy Iran from establishing a permanent military presence there, and to block sophisticated Iranian arms from reaching Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes during the Syrian civil war, mainly against suspect arms shipments allegedly bound for Hezbollah.

Although the U.S. has not actively assisted Israel in this mission, the presence of U.S. forces in Syria has served as a deterrent to Israel’s enemies.

Ebrahim Ebrahim of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the SDF, called Trump’s decision “treason” and said there is fear among residents in northern Syria that Turkey will invade the region following a U.S. withdrawal, and that government forces and IS militants will attack areas held by the Kurdish forces.

“The American withdrawal will be the trigger that blows up the region,” he added.

(19) comments

des21

And yet leaving Iraq creating a vacuum for ISIS was the right thing to do! Give me a break. If journalists (and many of my fellow commentators) were not so blinded by partisanship they might qualify to drive a truck. Other than that, the professions would clearly be closed to them. We were doing nothing of purpose in Syria. I'm a neo-con and a big fan of useful American presences abroad. This was not that.

Contain Russia and especially (all you Obama apparatchiks) Iranian expansionism but 7000 troops here was not the way forward. Once again, the Kurds are the big losers here- just like they were when we abandoned them in Iraq. i think they're sadly used to it.

Hayduke2

So, what's wrong with driving a truck? And I am sure to be swayed by your analysis since you get first hand facts and daily briefings from intelligence in the area.

des21

Nothing's wrong with it, it just doesn't require a deep understanding if geo-politics. (My oldest brother drives a truck quite well. Good middle class income for those with a HS (in his case a GED, education). Can't find enough Americans to do it. Important Pakistanis and Indians for who it's a high status job.

DickD

You know more than the generals and the Pentagon, DAVID? God help us all, we have a know it all with a PHD in politics that is going to tell the generals and Pentagon how to run a military campaign. Now we can shut down West Point and Annapolis. Thank you so much, David.

des21

Yes, Dick, sometimes non-pros (remember the head of the CIA's "slam dunk" about WMD in Iraq- you all had great fun with that when you weren't ignoring it) know best. I know that many times I know best. Merry Christmas.

Mickey7

Dave has the same mental disorder as his hero Donnie Bonespurs. I guess he is a Stable Genius, a Smart Peron with the Best Words, as well as, DKS

Mickey7

"It was President George W. Bush who signed the Status of Forces agreement in 2008, which planned for all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
"The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq — a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge," he said in a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki at the time." "Obama apparatchiks"? I think Trump is the Commie Ally if Putin was a Commie. Putin is a Russian Mobster and Trump is a American Mobster. You are so concerned with Iran while our ally Saudi Arabia is the other terrorist country in the region. Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Osama bin Laden was a Saudi as were 15 of the 911 hijackers.

des21

Your delusional if you think Iraqi PM Malaki (sp?- whom we put in power) could make us do anything Vic. Face it, Obama's policies in the Middle East led to the rise of ISIS and squandered the possibility of the Arab Spring. (Don't get me started on Russia taking the Crimea and the Donbas on his watch!) Now the Soviets will have a permanent base in the region (Syria) and we won't! Nice work! (You compare him to MLK? More like Chester Arthur!)

Mickey7

Don't let Facts get in the way of your delusions,des. The rise of ISIS is directly related to the Bush/Cheney strategy of disarming the Iraqi Army which led to their recruitment by ISIL. Why do you hate Obama so much? Warmonger Chicken Hawks like you need to play more "Call of Duty" Don't tell me about Dr.King you weren't born yet!

jerseygrl42

do you mean like the turmoil obama created when he drew a line in the sand and then turned his back to them....at which time the lefty press said NOTHING

Blueline

This seems odd, especially since it's an Obama-type move which Trump has criticized in the past.

phydeaux994

In addition, Trump says he will pull half of the U.S. troops, 7000 soldiers, out of Afghanistan against all advice of the experts, after increasing the number from 10,000 to 14,000 just 18 months ago, in both cases with no strategic reasons. But he said it before, he knows more than the Generals do!!

DickD

So does Des.

des21

You're darn right Dick- just as you and yours did during the Surge in Iraq! Mirror, Dick- get to know one another.

DickD

So, now Putin makes decisions, for the US as he whispers in Trump's ear.

olefool

Russian Mole in the White House... Any more questions about this???

Busy day for Trump. Not only did he give Putin a Christmas present , he removed sanctions on Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s aluminum company, United Co. 🤔

Comment deleted.
threecents

???

des21

Woman you are TUNED in!!! Don't you have any holiday related stuff to take care of? Your OCD is really coming to the fore on this whole Trump thing!

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