On December 19, President Trump declared on Twitter: “We have defeated [the Islamic State group] in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The White House then confirmed that U.S. troops are leaving Syria immediately and will be completely gone within 30 days.
U.S. officials said all State Department personnel would leave within 24 hours, and NGO staff working on stabilization are also reportedly being evacuated.
Q1: Why did this happen now?
A1: President Trump campaigned on withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and renewed his calls to “get out of Syria” in April 2018. His national security team has consistently—and until now, successfully—persuaded him that a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake. Several officials have cautioned that a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops would help the Islamic State group (ISG) resurrect itself. John Bolton, the national security adviser, pledged three months ago that U.S. troops would remain in Syria as long as Iran has a military presence there.
Numerous reports suggest that his most senior officials were taken by surprise, and the U.S. military had less than 24 hours’ notice. Secretary Mattis refused to answer questions about the U.S. withdrawal to the media, and the Pentagon released a statement refuting the president’s claim that the ISG had been defeated. The State Department abruptly canceled its scheduled press briefing.
The decision fits into a pattern of moves taken by the Trump administration to appease Turkey, which objects to the United States arming and training Syrian Kurdish forces that have been fighting the ISG in eastern Syria, but which also have links to the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group in Turkey.
Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened an imminent Turkish incursion into Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria, which would have put U.S. troops at risk. Turkey, a NATO ally, also had been flirting with the idea of buying an S-400 Russian missile defense system rather than the U.S.-built Patriot system. Following President Trump’s phone call with Turkey on Friday, Turkey agreed to buy the U.S. system for $3.5 billion.
In addition, the White House confirmed that President Trump is considering extraditing the Turkish dissident religious leader Fethullah Gulen. (end of excerpt)
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