US preparing for 'full' withdrawal from Syria

Planning is underway for a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of US troops from Syria, a US defense official has told CNN.

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 4:23 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 4:23 AM

It was set to be the most discreet yet potent measure of US influence in the Middle East.

Over 2,000 American special forces in the north of Syria, fighting the fight against ISIS, but also providing a significant bang for their buck.

But to widespread surprise, US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that the US intends to rapidly withdraw from Syria.

The troops out there had managed three things to date:

First, they fought ISIS alongside the Syrian Kurds who run that area of north Syria. The fight was edging towards its end, but was also at a key stage of mopping up potent leadership and denying them the chance to regroup.

They could have remained there indefinitely, chasing ISIS militants in the desert. But for now, their goals were palpable and persistent. ISIS has been regrouping and the fight was not done.

As Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute pointed out, ISIS issued a claim of responsibility for an attack in Raqqa just ten minutes before Trump's announcement.

Second, they kept the Syrian Kurds slightly in check. This may sound odd, given they are arming and assisting a group of Kurdish fighters that Turkey, the US's NATO ally to the north, considers terrorists. But the truth is that so long as the Americans remained there, the chance of the Syrian Kurds, known when working with their Arab partners as the SDF, attacking Turkey was limited.

Third is the most important part of the US presence, which may be missed the most by Washington's allies. They provided a very forceful and blatant block to Iranian and Russian influence in the present and future Syria.

Iran has been accused of using that stretch of flat, open Syria to send weapons to its partners Hezbollah in Lebanon. That threatens Israel. Iran calls the accusations of their poor behavior in the region "hysterical statements" invented by people wanting to paint Iran as "an imaginary enemy."

Russia was also seeking to improve its and the Syrian regime's standing in the area. The Americans were not messing around: on one February night they may have killed dozens of Russian mercenaries trying to assist Assad's forces in retaking an oil field. These Americans were effective and heavily armed.

And their bases were not temporary structures. The runways were paved, the defenses serious. Nobody expected to be going anywhere.

Which leads us to this question: why, given the major gains of the presence and its relatively minor numbers, did Trump, the Commander in Chief, do this?

The timing is curious. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for days been threatening to send in his troops to attack and push back the Syrian Kurds allied with the US Special Forces. He sees them as a threat -- explicitly calls them terrorists -- and is under domestic pressure to act tough.

The one thing that has always held him back was the risk that US troops might get caught up in the onslaught.

If they are not there, that risk evaporates. Turkey is a NATO ally and the US's embrace of the Kurds in the ISIS fight has irritated Ankara and led them to get closer to Moscow. This move may reverse that.

Another beneficiary will be Vladimir Putin. Without the US in the ring, Russia is the main military force in the post-war Syria. However you divine it, Trump seems to have few qualms about doing things that will please Putin. Finally, this sudden move repeats something the US has a history of: abandoning the Kurds in the Middle East.

They did so after the first Gulf War, and many cynical Kurds knew it was only a matter of time before they pulled back here, in northern Syria, leaving them to face the Turkish music.

The issue here is that this departure is unexpected, startling and apparently counter to several major US policy interests. Which will leave many in the US and elsewhere wondering why Trump has decided to do this now.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319511

Reported Deaths: 7368
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22267267
Hinds20657421
Harrison18401317
Rankin13868282
Jackson13681248
Madison10239224
Lee10052176
Jones8458167
Forrest7824153
Lauderdale7257242
Lowndes6501150
Lamar634088
Lafayette6303121
Washington5419136
Bolivar4836133
Panola4665110
Oktibbeha466098
Pearl River4600147
Marshall4572105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425073
Union415677
Monroe4155135
Neshoba4059179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386487
Leflore3515125
Tate342386
Sunflower339391
Pike3368111
Alcorn324272
Scott319774
Yazoo314171
Adams305886
Itawamba305078
Copiah299666
Coahoma298484
Simpson298189
Tippah291868
Prentiss283661
Leake271774
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George252051
Newton248663
Tishomingo231268
Winston229981
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190374
Clay187754
Stone187433
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174032
Yalobusha167840
Smith164034
Walthall135347
Greene131833
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry126738
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108033
Tunica108027
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman81916
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69432
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548323

Reported Deaths: 11288
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson809531565
Mobile42066826
Madison35663525
Tuscaloosa26162458
Shelby25595254
Montgomery25081612
Baldwin21839313
Lee16265176
Calhoun14718325
Morgan14626285
Etowah14171363
Marshall12449230
Houston10764288
Elmore10295213
Limestone10182157
St. Clair10160251
Cullman9941201
Lauderdale9596249
DeKalb8967189
Talladega8458184
Walker7335280
Autauga7230113
Blount6944139
Jackson6922113
Colbert6414140
Coffee5627127
Dale4929114
Russell454941
Chilton4472116
Franklin431083
Covington4273122
Tallapoosa4136155
Escambia401780
Chambers3726124
Dallas3607156
Clarke352961
Marion3242106
Pike314078
Lawrence3129100
Winston283572
Bibb268464
Geneva257581
Marengo250665
Pickens236862
Barbour234659
Hale226878
Butler224071
Fayette218162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph187044
Monroe179341
Washington170439
Macon162951
Clay160159
Crenshaw155657
Cleburne153244
Lamar146537
Lowndes142054
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh113430
Coosa111429
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93534
Choctaw62025
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