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Raqqa Internal Security Force. Photo: US Army

Will the US really withdraw from Syria?

American troops are preparing to leave northeast Syria, according to President Trump. But will the US really leave Syria?

Published: December 20, 2018, 8:15 am

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    The move will leave the American strategy in the Middle East into turmoil, The Wall Street Journal reported.

    “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the US president tweeted on Wednesday, but gave no details on his future plans.

    In a call last week between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan however, it became clear that Turkey is about to target Kurdish soldiers who act as American proxies in Syria.

    Sources say Turkey is ready to move into northeast Syria and its army has massed heavy weapons near the Syrian border. Some 15 000 foreign troops, transferred from Idleb and other Turkish controlled areas of northwest Syria and funded by Turkey, will be spearheading the invasion.

    Neoconservatives in Trump’s administration are furious about the announcement, since they had planned to establish a Kurdish army of 40 000 troops financed by the Syrian oil fields they occupy.

    Turkey evidently does not like the idea of 40 000 armed YPK Kurds on its border, since the YPG’s sister organisation, the PKK has been waging a separatist guerilla war against the Turkish army.

    It seems that Erdogan has offered to buy advanced Patriot US missile defense systems, even though it had earlier decided to buy the Russian S-400 system.

    The US currently still occupies border station al-Tanf between Iraq and Syria, and will not be closing down its military presence in Syria completely.

    It will be present for an indefinite period, having turned Raqqa into the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 US troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital, Consortium news reported.

    Unofficially, according to The Washington Post, the figure is closer to 4 000, which is twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil.

    The Syrian government will have to take back the Raqqa dam, the rich agricultural land north of the Euphrates and, most importantly, the oil and gas fields near the Iraqi border which are needed to finance the country.

    To the northeast of the Euphrates area remnants of ISIS that the US will be leaving behind, will pose a problem for the Syrian leadership.

    “Pentagon officials were still trying to talk the president out of it, arguing that such a move would betray Kurdish allies who have fought alongside American troops in Syria and who could find themselves under attack in a military offensive now threatened by Turkey,” The New York Times reported.

    But it appears that the US is ready to betray their “allies” and the Kurds will likely pay a huge price for blindly having relied on American support.

    Russia, Iran, and Turkey have meanwhile been meeting with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to set up a committee in January tasked with drafting a new Syrian constitution.

    In March Trump announced that he would withdraw American troops as soon as ISIS was defeated, but in September the Pentagon denied such a move, saying that US troops had to stay until Damascus and its political opponents achieved a “full settlement”.

    According to The Washington Post the US plans to extend “overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria”.

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed on Wednesday that there will be only a partial withdrawal: “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

    “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” she added, suggesting that the US will not leave.

    “The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders,” the White House press secretary warned.

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