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Trump's bizarre decision on Syria

The ever-unpredictable President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of the 2,000 US ground troops in Sy...

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 7:31 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 7:31 AM

The ever-unpredictable President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of the 2,000 US ground troops in Syria who are training local forces to fight ISIS, according to a US defense official who spoke to CNN.

This comes after the Trump administration had finally brought some coherence to its Syria strategy under veteran diplomat Ambassador James Jeffrey and retired Army Col. Joel Rayburn, both of whom have deep experience in the region.

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Until Wednesday, US policy in Syria was easy to describe: Defeat ISIS, maintain US forces in Syria until Iranian military forces withdraw from the country, and push for a transition away from the government of Bashar al Assad.

But news of the withdrawal broke on Wednesday after Trump tweeted, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

Just four days ago, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, warned against a withdrawal when I interviewed him at the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday.

While McGurk called ISIS a "significantly degraded organization," he added, "But no one who does this day to day is naive enough to know you can just declare victory and walk away. We have to maintain pressure on these networks really, for a period of years."

Pulling US troops out now would be premature and doing so would hand over an unexpected Christmas gift to five American adversaries: Assad, Assad's close allies including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, as well as ISIS and al Qaeda, whose virulent Syrian affiliate goes by a variety of names, including Al Nusra.

Head scratching hardly begins to cover it.

While Trump has expressed his desire to pull out of Syria before, there were two main arguments that might have held him back.

The first: Why replicate the total withdrawal of US troops in Iraq -- first set in motion by President George W. Bush before the Obama administration made the official announcement at the end of 2011 -- which helped set the stage for the return of ISIS?

The second: Why hand over Syria to the Russians and the Iranians?

It seems these arguments are no longer persuasive to Trump.

Unfortunately, according to UN Undersecretary-General for Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov, who spoke on the panel I moderated at the Doha Forum, there are an estimated 20,000 ISIS fighters left in the world, many of whom are in Iraq and Syria.

Then add to that the fact al Qaeda's affiliate and offshoots in Syria are estimated as of August to have 10,000 fighters, according to UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

If there is one key lesson we have learned from fighting jihadist terrorist groups in the 17 years since 9/11 it is that they thrive in weak or failing Muslim states such as Syria, and other countries where the United States has little to no presence.

The Syrian pullout would run the risk of negating so many of the gains that have been made against ISIS. It also leaves the United States' Syrian Kurdish partners, who have done the bulk of the fighting against ISIS, to fend for themselves against the powerful Turkish military, which regards them as terrorists.

And we've run a version of this play before. After the United States pulled out of Iraq, the group that later became ISIS first organized in Syria in 2011 before it invaded Iraq three years later and took over territory the size of Great Britain, controlling a population of nearly 12 million.

It's mystifying why Trump is risking even a limited repetition of this mistake.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
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Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
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Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
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Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
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George457868
Scott451993
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Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
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Tate4234100
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Marion4032100
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Newton364474
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Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
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Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 768301

Reported Deaths: 13209
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1093481727
Mobile699891179
Madison48418589
Baldwin35707452
Shelby35193291
Tuscaloosa33029512
Montgomery32582664
Lee21908204
Calhoun20140377
Morgan19351318
Etowah18583433
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Houston16139353
St. Clair14956276
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Cullman14069235
Elmore14010245
Lauderdale13128272
Talladega12399215
DeKalb11890229
Walker10231312
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Blount9418149
Jackson9115136
Coffee8646161
Colbert8324169
Dale8284159
Escambia6456106
Tallapoosa6394168
Covington6313157
Chilton6243133
Russell591654
Franklin563597
Chambers5240132
Marion4628115
Dallas4626178
Clarke451471
Pike450091
Geneva4252106
Winston407987
Lawrence4046102
Bibb396177
Barbour338968
Marengo320981
Monroe311547
Butler309783
Pickens298769
Randolph294055
Henry293856
Hale286081
Cherokee279850
Fayette272271
Washington243545
Crenshaw232265
Clay221561
Macon214454
Cleburne209748
Lamar187839
Conecuh177139
Lowndes169056
Coosa163631
Wilcox154335
Bullock147142
Perry134235
Sumter123335
Greene119241
Choctaw72325
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