Is President Trump Rethinking The Withdrawal Of US Troops From Syria?

Donald Trump at a press conference in July 2018 (Picture: PA).

Two weeks ago the US President announced that he was pulling US troops out of Syria due to Islamic State being "beaten".

Since then, during a surprise visit to Iraq over Christmas, he has reiterated his beliefs that the job in Syria is done. 

US officials also followed the announcement saying US troops would be home in 30 days.

But this decisions seems to have changed over the last few days.

In a tweet, the President said American soldiers would return “slowly".

The remark came the same day as Trump met with Republican Senators, many of whom were highly critical of his decision.

After the meeting, they told reporters the US presence in Syria was now "on pause".

There are approximately 2,000 troops based in the northeast of Syria, including Marines and Special Forces.

They have been training and advising Kurdish forces - a relationship that has angered Turkey.

Critics have said that if US troops withdraw it will pave the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds, an ally that has lost thousands of troops fighting Islamic State. 

The pull out announcement also led to the walkout of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former Royal Marine.

James Mattis
James Mattis speaking to reporters at the Pentagon in November 2018 (Picture: US Department of Defense).

His resignation was closely followed a few days later by diplomat Brett McGurk, appointed by Barrack Obama as US special envoy to the coalition.  

It is estimated that Islamic State has lost 99% of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, but the group is still launching small, but deadly, attacks in both countries.

We are yet to see clearly whether President Trump is rowing back on his decision or merely clarifying the timeline is not yet set in stone.

But what is clear is, the importance of what happens in northern Syria to the US, Turkey, Iran and Russia.

All of them vying for military and political influence amid a crisis that seems very far from over.

Dr Abdulaziz Alghashian, a Middle East Politics expert from University of Essex, spoke to Forces News about how "essential" a slow withdrawal is:

"The gradual withdrawal of the Unites States from Syria is a must, is essential for the stability. There are no ifs about it.

"There is no doubt about that, there has to be a gradual withdrawal.

“This will allow more time for local forces and local governments to be more solid in maintaining the security and the prosperity in the country."

He believes that there are only two ways a quick withdrawal will play out: "It will encourage IS to be more bold in the region because there is a security vacuum but secondly and most importantly I truly believe and foresee that this will be used and instrumentalised by IS themselves.

"They will then say, listen we have destroyed the United States and we have beaten the United States and the United States are losers right now and so a speedy withdrawal is going to be a rhetorical advantage for IS so therefore a gradual withdrawal is going to be nothing but advantageous for the stability there."

The fight against Islamic State has 'already been eclipsed' says Dr Afzal Ashraf.

Speaking to Forces News earlier, Dr Afzal Ashraf said he believes that the Russians and the Syrian regime have now taken the lead on the fight:

“Daesh has been removed from major towns and cities, it is now – as far as I can tell -  located in small packets along the river in small villages and many of the fighters are trying hard to disperse internationally coming to Europe in some cases but in most cases dispersing to Africa and to Asia.

"So that fight is now going to expand beyond the borders of Syria, beyond Iraq to elsewhere.”

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