President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, which is reportedly expected to take 60-100 days or 30 days depending on who you ask. According to Kurdish forces in eastern Syria the withdrawal of American as well as French troops is already underway, though France is saying it’s staying. The number of troops to be withdrawn which keeps getting repeated in the news is 2,000, but there’ve been reports that the actual number of US ground troops in Syria is closer to 4,000. The US-led airstrike campaign against Islamic State will reportedly continue.
Trump says the withdrawal is because ISIS has been defeated in Syria, but others are pointing to the conspicuous timing of his recent chat with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan, who has announced a coming military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria east of the Euphrates in the near future, as the more likely reason. An anonymous senior US official has told Reuters that the two leaders didn’t discuss a US withdrawal from Syria, but the timing of the conversation as well as a recent $3.5 billion arms deal with Turkey indicates the the US withdrawal and Erdoğan’s planned military assault could very well be related. The Kurds put all their eggs in the basket of US support out of a desire to create their own nation, and a US withdrawal means they’ll be forced to either court an alliance with Damascus, as some analysts believe will happen, or risk being trapped between hostile Turkish forces and hostile Syrian coalition forces as the Assad government races to reclaim Syrian territory.
Beyond that, it’s hard to tell what’s actually happening. I’ll be astonished if there is an actual US withdrawal from Syria without any residual or proxy forces left behind, and it remains extremely possible that US troops won’t leave at all, especially if another conveniently timed “chemical weapons attack” gets attributed to Damascus. This administration has been going back and forth and back and forth about what its Syria policy actually is ever since Trump took office, and it won’t be the least bit surprising if we end up seeing very little change in US military presence. Things could very well just get shuffled around a bit and then re-settle as power struggles are sorted out within an administration that is endlessly in conflict with itself.
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