In UNPRECEDENTED decision, US considers withdrawing from Syria

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

US President Donald Trump tweeted that ISIS was defeated as reports emerged the US is thinking of leaving Syria. According to the reports from CNN and the Wall Street Journal, Trump appears to be tipping in this direction.

CNN: Planning is underway for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria, a US defense official told CNN Wednesday. The decision was made by President Donald Trump, who has long signaled his desire to get out of Syria, the official added.

 

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Reuters reports that all U.S. State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours. This was despite the claims just two days ago that the US was looking at the long term in eastern Syria…White House says U.S. has started returning troops home from Syria as it transitions to next phase of campaign.

The Wall Street Journal had reported the same thing earlier in the day. Dion Nissenbaum writes “DEVELOPING/BREAKING: US preparing to pull ALL US forces out of Syria, including those in south where they served as bulwark against Iran and those helping fight Islamic State.”

Earlier in the day Turkey, Iran and Russia had met to work on a constitutional committee for Syria. This comes after months where the US indicated it wanted to stay to stabilize eastern Syria. Envoy Jeffrey had said in November “What we’re looking for is the enduring defeat of ISIS, a reinvigorated and irreversible political process in Syria led by the Syrian people and facilitated by the UN, and de-escalation of the conflict that will include all Iranian-commanded forces departing from the entirety of Syria.” He supported the UN Geneva process that the US was isolated from. The US gave in to threats by Turkey it appears. US officials visited Gaziantep on December to discuss civil society issues with Turkey.

The Pentagon had warned against Turkey’s decision to intervene in Syria. Just two years ago Syrian cities were celebrating liberation from ISIS. Now it is unclear what comes next. Just days ago the main US envoy to Syria didn’t seem to know this was coming, which calls into question how the decision was made. Masoud Barzani had spoken to Brett McGurk about concerns he had. Jeffrey had indicated that the SDF and others should play a role in Syria in the future.

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The US was sidelined in Syria

This leaves many questions, especially about Turkey’s likely operation in the north

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It also leaves questions for Inherent Resolve, which had increased airstriikes to defeat ISIS

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Reactions

Michael Knights: Another gun-in-mouth day for US policy in the Middle East. Withdrawing from Syria – where we cause Iran huge dilemmas at very low cost – is an interesting definition of bringing “maximum pressure” on Iran.

Senator Lindsey Graham: Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake…Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake…There will be much resentment and feeling of abandonment that will be directed toward American personnel. The confusion surrounding our Syria policy is making life much more difficult and dangerous for Americans in the region.

Senator Rand Paul: I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It’s been a long time since that has happened.

Danny Gold: I just realized, is the KRG ready to take in tens of thousands of refugees? This is going to be a disaster.

Bethan McKernan: Turkish and Arabic media have produced maps showing scale of proposed Turkish operation in Kurdish-held Syria. Encompasses purple area – Qamishli, Hasekeh and Kobani, ie, the three main Kurdish towns. Would push Kurdish population south to desert areas held by regime/Isis

Ceng Sagnic: My personal opinion is that the withdrawal information given to WSJ and Reuters is a warning to the PYD in the ongoing negotiations reminding the seriousness of the situation. A sudden withdrawal is possible as a logistical but heavy political responsibility. But it is clear that the United States is forced to election between PYD and Turkey.

“ISIS has NOT been defeated,” says of the Syrian Emergency Task Force. “I have no idea what the president is talking about.”

Tamer El-Ghobashy, commenting on Trump’s statement: 16 words to end what amounts to an incredibly destructive, consequential and incomplete American mission in Syria.

Ali Ozkok: is distancing itself from Trump, White House and State Department: International coalition liberates IS-controlled territory, but fight against ISIL is not over yet. Not leaving US troops from ?

Mark Dubowitz: December 19, 2018. The date your maximum pressure campaign against Iran turned from a serious effort to a rhetorical joke.

Jenan Mousa: According to most recent reports, ISIS still has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters just in Syria & Iraq.

Iyad al-Baghdadi: Reminds of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003.

Hassan Hassan: This tweet will appear on the empty page right after the dedication page in future books: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” — President Donald Trump, December 19, 2018.

Josie Ensor: US withdrawal from northern Syria could force the Kurds into a “deal with the devil”. I spoke to a number of officials during a recent trip there about what happens if Turkey invades and America abandons them

Charles Lister: There is a possibility of an announcement today. That’s if the collective U.S. government is unable to push back against – as it did earlier in the year after his comments in . More than anything, this is an extraordinary insult to the recent efforts of Amb. Jeffrey. isn’t only doing what did in leaving prematurely, he’s doing it in an environment in which ’s adversaries will benefit: jihadis, and . Unbelievable hubris.

Abdulla Hawez: This will not only endanger Kurdish region in Syria but as we’ve seen in Afrin there will be massive displacement of Kurds and Erdogan is going to change the demography by sending back refugees there. YPG must allow other Kurds including Rojava Pesh to join to defend the region.

Michael Weiss: 1. Iran’s land corridor is established. IRGC will have a straight shot from Tehran to the Mediterranean for the first time since 1979….see thread

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