On April 4, an official statement from the White House Office of the Press Secretary stated that the mission to eradicate ISIS is coming to a “rapid end”. This follow an earlier statement by the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, that the White House “relatively soon” will announce a decision about U.S. involvement in Syria.
A day earlier President Trump instructed his military leaders to withdraw American troops from Syria as soon as possible. This was the culmination of several tweets along the lines that ISIS (an often-used acronym for the Islamic State) was nearly defeated and that other states ought to shoulder the burden of rebuilding and reconstructing Syria. Trump has already cancelled deals to fund rebels fighting the Assad-regime and money (around $200 million) set aside for reconstruction work, in a so-called stabilization fund.
As pointed out before, this make the present U.S. military mission in Syria all the more difficult. There are around 2000 troops aiding the SDF in eastern Syria and aiming to help the mainly Kurdish force to set up border-control force to block any resurgent IS from forming. These forces are a main reason the Turks and their Syrian allies are, for now at least, not pushing on eastwards towards the city of Manbij.
But even more severe are the repercussions for any long-term U.S. involvement in Syria and the wider Middle East. All U.S. allies – including Israel, KSA and UAE – have voiced their disagreement with Trump’s stated policy and pointed out – as has the military, Intelligence and Security Policy analysts in the U.S. – that a drawing down of American presence rapidly and without a long-term security regime in place, will play right into the hands of Iran and Russia as well as helping Turkey in its ongoing war against the Kurds.
Having President Trump officially undermining his own stated goals of a toughening U.S. stance against Iran by ceasing ground to the Iranians and Russia, is a strange way of conducting Foreign Policy. In the recently held meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani (in Ankara), one of the main points agreed upon was that the U.S. forces would had to withdraw from Syria, but not Iranian, Turkish or Russian ditto. The fact that these three authoritarian leaders could meet and, more or less, divide Syria (the Syrians were not invited to the summit) among themselves without as much as a peep from either Washington or Brussels, is a telling sign of how much influence the West has lost.
Furthermore, by removing U.S. forces from Syria will also be a stab in the back of the Kurds who has been the best and most loyal ally of the American forces in their fight against IS. That the current U.S. policy also, by extension, gives Turkey a free hand in conducting its war against those Kurds adds to the mess. The Turkish offensive in Afrin also led to Kurdish forces being diverted from the fight against IS to counter Turkey.
If the policies coming out of Washington keep being confused and contradictory, a process already several years in the making, whereby the U.S. is ceding ground to its very vocal enemies, will only increase and will make any hope for a more stable and peaceful region impossible to achieve.