Just the Facts
Five Facts on US Withdrawal from Syria
By No Labels
December 20, 2018 | Blog
On Wednesday, President Trump announced a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of over 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria after declaring that the Islamic State (ISIS) had been defeated. Here are five facts on U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
The withdrawal would mark the end of U.S. involvement in a long proxy war.
The U.S. will be leaving behind a long and complex conflict in Syria. The Syrian war was waged originally between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and several rebel groups, an outgrowth of armed protests calling for the end of al-Assad’s regime. It has since metastasized into a proxy war involving other nations. Israel became involved on behalf of the rebels because of Assad’s support from longtime Israeli foe, Iran. Russia got involved to prop up Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow. Turkey has been involved in the war largely to monitor the advancements of Syrian Kurds, who they perceive as threatening Turkey’s security. Other regional players entangled also include Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Finally, the presence of ISIS continuously adds another layer of complexity and violence to the region; its presence heavily contributed to U.S. initial involvement.
U.S. soldiers have largely been stationed in the Kurdish region in Northern Syria.
The U.S. has spent much of its time in the northern regions of Syria in an effort to aid Syrian Kurdish rebel fighters combatting the Islamic State. According the BBC, Syrian Kurdish fighters, also known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are credited with a major decrease in ISIS influence over the past few years. This partnership between the U.S. and Kurds has not always been well received, however. Turkey, one of Syria’s neighboring countries, has long viewed the SDF as an arm of another Kurdish group fighting for autonomy in Turkey. With removal of U.S. troops from the region, all eyes will be on SDF relations with Turkish President Erdogan.
International reactions to the White House announcement have been mixed.
Syrian Kurdish Allies reacted with shock and frustration to the surprise announcement. A rapid withdrawal, they say, may leave the region susceptible for a resurgence from ISIS, or a potential offensive from Turkey. In contrast, The New York Times reported Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the decision: “Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” Putin said. British and French officials say they have no immediate plans to follow the U.S. lead.
Despite withdrawal from the area the U.S. will look to maintain regional interests and alliances.
The U.S still maintains a strategic base in Southern Syria, which has served as a barricade against weapons trade routes from Iran. A senior U.S. official said, “We will continue to use tools of national power, including economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, as leverage to press for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces… Iran knows the U.S. stands ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests.” On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Trump administration had informed him of the move. On Thursday, the US also confirmed to the United Nations Security Council its commitment to the “permanent destruction” of the Islamic State.
U.S. Withdrawal could signal an end to controversial air strikes in the region.
One U.S. defense official told CNN Thursday morning that U.S. airstrikes in Syria would likely cease due to lack of U.S. spotters on the ground. The official said there is a possibility of continued drone use to conduct intelligence in the region. Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich told Russian News Agency TASS on Thursday, “As long as there are U.S.troops on the ground, we will conduct air and artillery strikes in support of our forces.” She added, however, “We will not speculate on future operations.” The U.S. has been conducting air strikes since 2014 under former President Obama. Between Dec 9 and December 15 of this year, the U.S.-led coalition in Syria carried out 208 air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, CNN reports.