On December 23rd, US President Donald Trump said that he entrusted the fight against ISIS in Syria to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
Earlier Trump claimed that the defeat of ISIS is the reason that US Troops are withdrawing from Syria.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Following Trump’s most recent tweet expressing his faith in Turkey in the fight against ISIS, it appears that the reports citing anonymous US and Turkish officials that the POTUS decided on the withdrawal during a phone call with Erdogan may prove true.
AP reported that “Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan” on December 14th.
The White House rejected the description of the call from the officials but was not specific.
“In no uncertain terms, reporting throughout this story is not true,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “It is clear from the context that this false version of events is from sources who lack authority on the subject, possibly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”
US State and Defense Departments refused to comment.
The Guardian also reported that the recent resignation by US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was caused by the phone call between Trump and Erdogan.
According to the outlet, Mattis on December 20th went to Trump to attempt and change Trump’s mind to the benefit of the US Kurdish-led ally the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). After failing to change the President’s mind, Mattis provided his resignation letter.
On December 23rd the outgoing Secretary of Defense signed the executive order for the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.
Trump also praised a “long and productive talk” he had with Erdogan and that they agreed on a “slow and highly coordinated pull out” from Syria.
I just had a long and productive call with President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
Regarding the conversation, the Turkish presidency released a statement claiming that Trump and Erdogan agreed to avoid a power vacuum in Syria after the US leaves.
“The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries’ military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria,” the statement read.
Thus, it appears that if the withdrawal is now a fact, Washington is giving a green light to a Turkish military operation against ISIS, but it is also abandoning the Kurdish-led YPG and SDF in northeastern Syria.
“As soon as the US folds its tent and leaves, Turkey will immediately begin an air bombardment followed by a ground attack by the [Ankara-backed] Free Syrian army. Thousands will die, thousands will be displaced and will be given no haven within Syria. They will be turned away at the Turkish border,” said David Phillips, a former senior state department official was cited by the Guardian.
“For more than three and a half years, they have been our boots on the ground and were the point of the spear in retaking [the Isis stronghold] Raqqa,” Phillips said. “Who is going to fight for us in the future when we throw our allies under the bus?”
With the US withdrawal, the US-backed proxies in Syria are scrambling to find a “savior,” whether they will be successful in doing so, or will Turkey simply deal with them is yet to be seen.