US President Trump announces troop withdrawal from Syria

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Correction — October 11, 2019
This article states Turkey had only two million refugees at publication. In fact, Turkey was host to over three-and-a-half million refugees at the time. Two million is the number Turkey desired to resettle to the below-described 'safe zone'.
Approximate military situation in Syria as of October 6:

██ Syrian Arab Republic

██ Syrian opposition & Turkish occupation

██ Syrian Democratic Forces

██ Tahrir al-Sham

(Image: Ermanarich)

Late on Sunday, the United States President Donald Trump, in a statement delivered via the press secretary, announced US troops would be leaving Syria. The announcement was made after Trump had a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The statement also said US troops had defeated ISIS and Turkey would be moving into Northern Syria. Turkey would also take over guarding captured ISIS fighters which, the statement said, European nations have refused to repatriate.

Donald Trump (l) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (r) at the G20 in June.
Image: US White House.

The US had been allied with Kurdish groups in fighting ISIS. One of these groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), opposed the withdrawal and said it was previously given "assurances from the US that it would not allow any Turkish military operations against the region." Kino Gabriel said, "The statement was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF."

According to the BBC, the SDF is largely made up of YPG militia which support the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK is banned in Turkey. According to a statement released by Erdogan's office, "neutralizing the threat stemming from PKK-YPG terrorist" is an aim of the Turkish military operation. The other primary goal is a safe zone to repatriate Syrian refugees.

According to CNN, Turkey has an estimated two million Syrian refugees, down from a peak of over three-and-a-half million at the height of the Syrian Civil War. The Turkish statement called for the safe zone for refugees to be set up East of the Euphrates River, which is territory controlled by the SDF.

Haley in 2018
Image: USDOS.

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wrote on Twitter, "We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake."

McGurk in 2017
Image: CJCS.

Brett McGurk, who was Trump's Special Presidential Envoy to the international military intervention against ISIL until December, also criticized the decision via Twitter. "The WH statement tonight on Syria after Trump spoke with Erdogan demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground. The "United States" is not holding any ISIS detainees. They are all being held by the SDF, which Trump just served up to Turkey." McGurk later wrote, "The SDF suffered thousands of casualties in the Raqqa battle. Not a single American life was lost. Trump later expanded the operation down the ERV. He touts these operations in political rallies but without apparent thought as to who did the fighting and dying."

Trump, also on Twitter, defended his decision, "As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done [it] before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!"

Graham in May
Image: USCBP.

Senator Lindsey Graham spoke on Fox News, "This is going to lead to ISIS' reemergence. Nothing [is] better for ISIS than to create a conflict between the Kurds and Turkey. The Kurds will now align with [Bashir al] Assad because they have nobody to count on because we abandoned them. So this is a big win for Iran and Assad — a big win for ISIS."

"ISIS is not defeated [...] The biggest lie being told by the administration [is] that ISIS is defeated. The caliphate's destroyed, but there's thousands of fighters over there. And no, the caliphate would not have been destroyed without the Kurds, and I applaud the president for getting the Kurds and the Arabs to do most of the fighting. The [US] casualties destroying the caliphate was very low", Graham continued. "[T]his impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And if I’m an ISIS fighter I've got a second lease on life. So to those who think ISIS has been defeated you will soon see."