As 2018 draws to a close, news headlines out of Washington have focused on domestic upheaval. Now President Trump has shifted focus back on Syria. In a Tweet sent Wednesday, President Trump declared victory over ISIS in Syria and has announced that the Pentagon is preparing for an immediate and total troop withdrawal.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president Tweeted.
There are currently some 2,000 US troops in Syria. Most are there in an advisory role, training local troops.
“The Pentagon has an order to get to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible,” a Pentagon official told reporters.
The move has left many scratching their heads. Sen. Lindsey Graham called the news a “huge Obama-like mistake.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, expressed doubt: “sure hope the President and his advisers are smarter than this.”
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
“The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”
While the White House is putting a victorious spin on the news, others see this withdrawal as placating Iran, Syria, and Russia, all of whom have a vested interest in the outcome of Syria’s civil war.
Even Turkey has a stake in the outcome. “The move is likely to please Turkish president Recep Erdogan, who wants to counter U.S. allied Kurdish forces in Syria and who spoke with Trump by telephone last week,” Daily Mail writes. “He has been threatening an assault on U.S. allied Kurdish forces, who have been effective in helping to combat ISIS.”
Russia, strongly allied with the Syrian government, may have the most to gain. As the US pulls out, Russia is ramping up its presence. They’re looking for a foothold in the region and access to Syrian ports, both of which are now theirs for the taking.
So what do Trump’s top military advisors want? Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly wanted troops to stay, if only to counter the return of ISIS influence.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger takes issue with President Trump’s claim that ISIS has been defeated. “This is simply not true,”‘ Kinzinger wrote.
Retired Gen. Mark Hertling spoke with CNN. He said Trump appears to be making a deal with Russia and Turkey.
“This was very surprising to me—not only the announcement but the timing. I don’t understand why it is happening now,” he said.
“The U.S. Forces have just started an offensive with the Syrian defense forces and the Kurds against the town of Hajin, which is considered an ISIS stronghold… You’re talking about making both the Russians, the Syrian Bashar Al Assad, the Iranians and the Turks very happy about this move because the Kurdish forces are going to see this as us turning against them one more time.”
“What is interesting that has not been brought up yet is there seems to be a transactional element to this, too. Over the last days the U.S. Has sealed the deal with Turkey for $3.5 billion worth of Patriot missile systems that were signed yesterday by our State Department. I’m sure that played a role, a little bit, in this.”
While the troops are being withdrawn from Syria, more than 5,000 will remain in neighboring Iraq.