Is Trump Really Pulling Out of Syria?

Matthew Petti

Congress and presidential candidates are debating over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to battle the Syrian Kurds. But it’s not clear the United States is really leaving Syria after all, even though its has outsourced control over former ISIS territories to Turkey.

Lawmakers voted 354–60 to condemn the withdrawal less than twenty-four hours after Democratic candidates clashed over the blame for the bloodshed in Syria during Tuesday night’s presidential debate. Trump touted his decision to pull U.S. forces out of the Middle Eastern country last week and during a press conference today bragged about how the decision was “strategically brilliant.”

“To focus singularly on what’s taking place in a part of Syria neglects the true risk to the American people and how effective this administration has been at preventing that risk from impacting security for the American people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an October 16 interview on Fox Business. Pompeo made clear that Iran was his focus of concern and not the Kurdish forces who had helped defeat ISIS.

It appears that the Trump administration never intended to leave Syria altogether. Instead, U.S. policy was to pivot towards a counter-Russia, counter-Iran campaign—at the expense of the Kurds.

Even after Trump announced that U.S. troops were leaving the area, about one thousand U.S. troops embedded with the Kurds continued to hold the line against Russia—until they were forced out. And the U.S. garrison at al-Tanf, on the opposite side of Syria, won’t be stopping its counter-Iran mission any time soon.

After less than a week of fighting Turkey, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a deal with Russia and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to cooperate against the Turkish invasion. But a leaked phone call with Gen. Mazloum “Kobani” Abdi shows that the United States was working to prevent the deal.

“You will not protect us and you won’t let anyone else protect us,” the Kurdish high commander told U.S. Deputy Special Envoy William Roebuck. “Either you stop this bombing on our people now, or move aside so we can let in the Russians.”

SDF diplomat Bassam Ishak confirmed the authenticity of the quote to the National Interest, but his superior Sinam Mohamad claimed that “no one discourage[d]” the SDF from seeking outside help.

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