On December 19th, US President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from Syria and that the fight against ISIS has concluded in victory.
A video of him saying that “We have won against ISIS. Our boys, our young women, our men – they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter.
After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home! pic.twitter.com/xoNjFzQFTp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
“We won, and that’s the way we want it, and that’s the way they want it,” he said
He further posted another tweet, claiming that the only reason US troops were in Syria during his Presidency to begin with was to defeat ISIS.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
However, according to the New York Times, Trump did in fact order a complete withdrawal, and he did so against resistance from the Pentagon and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also confirmed this shift in policy in a statement, shared by Zeke Miller, a White House reporter for AP.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) December 19, 2018
Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, and Brett H. McGurk, the American envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, fiercely protested the military withdrawal, unnamed administration officials said cited by the NYT.
Officials said General Votel argued that withdrawing American troops would leave the Kurds vulnerable to attack from Turkey, which has warned it will soon launch an offensive against them. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) received news of the withdrawal and its leadership was “shocked” and considered the withdrawal as a “stab in the back.”
In the first official responses of the Kurdish Forces, Aldar Khalil, co-president of the executive body of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), said that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) never pinned their hopes on foreign forces.
“We never said that we will protect ourselves with foreign forces or that we will achieve our revolution with the support of foreign forces, we rely on our own power,” Khalil said.
Earlier, McGurk characterized the mission in Syria as one that sought the “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State. “We know that once the physical space is defeated, we can’t just pick up and leave,” he told reporters. “We want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas.”
Pentagon spokesperson Dana White also contradicted Trump:
And now from Pentagon's Dana White:
"The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over.
"We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign."
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) December 19, 2018
Furthermore, the Daily Beast reported that despite Trump’s announcement, the Pentagon maintained that nothing has changed. “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region,” said Col. Rob Manning. The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mostly working to train local forces in combating ISIS. A U.S. withdrawal risks diminishing American influence in the region, satisfying the goals of Syria, Iran, and Russia.
Senator Lindsey Graham also spoke out against Trump’s decision. “This is chaos,” he told reporters.
Lindsey Graham on #Syria withdrawal situation just now in Senate subway: ‘This is chaos’
— Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten) December 19, 2018
Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake. https://t.co/028NOsbyzT
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 19, 2018
Another Republican Senator Marco Rubio, also spoke against the decision:
Marco Rubio railed on the president’s decision to pull out of Syria, saying whoever advised him has done a “great disservice” to the country. He said to us that Trump has put the US at risk by his decision – and it will make the world view America as an unreliable partner.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 19, 2018
In a letter to Trump, Graham and five other senators, from both parties, implored him to reconsider his decision, warning that a withdrawal would embolden the remnants of the Islamic State, as well as the Assad government, Iran and Russia.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 20, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only commented with “of course, an American decision,” and that the Israeli government would study the possibly implications that would bring.
But according to analysts, cited by the NYT, the withdrawal would be a serious blow to Israel’s efforts to impede Iranian influence in Syria and the region.
A statement released by the British government said that while the global coalition against the Islamic State had made progress, “we must not lose sight of the threat they pose.”
Tobias Ellwood, a junior UK Defense minister commented on Trump’s decision: “I strongly disagree. It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was cited as saying that the decision was “a milestone story which might evolve from this decision is a real prospect for a political solution.”
According to NYT, an unnamed senior White House official told reporters in a phone call that previous statements by White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and other senior officials all claiming that the US would remain in Syria, not only until ISIS is defeated, but until Iran withdraws as well. However, that didn’t matter “Trump could do as he pleases.”
“He gets to do that,” said the unnamed official “That’s his prerogative.”
According to an unnamed official from the Pentagon:
“Trump wanted to divert attention from his mounting legal troubles: the Russia investigation; the sentencing of his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, in a hush money scandal to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him; and his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who was harshly criticized by a federal judge for lying to investigators.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Kurdish Official Comments On U.S. Troops Withdrawal From Syria: We Never Pinned Our Hopes On Foreign Forces
- U.S. Is Preparing For Full Withdrawal From Syria: Confirmed