Syria conflict: Trump's withdrawal plan shocks allies
[December 20 2018]
have largely been stationed in the Kurdish region in
President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all US
troops from Syria has been met with strong criticism.
Mr Trump made the announcement on Wednesday, asserting
that the Islamic State (IS) group had been defeated.
But major allies, including senior Republicans and
foreign powers, have disputed the claim and say the move could lead to a
resurgence of IS.
US troops have helped rid much of Syria's north-east
of the jihadist group, but pockets of fighters remain.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is one of Mr
Trump's supporters, called the withdrawal decision a "huge Obama-like
And the UK government pushed back on the president's
assurance that IS had now been defeated.
The Pentagon said it was transitioning to the "next
phase of the campaign" to eliminate IS but did not provide further
President Trump, who has long promised to pull
American troops out of Syria, said on Twitter that it was time to bring
them home after their "historic victories".
The White House would not give a timescale for the
withdrawal but defence officials quoted by the New York Times said
President Trump wanted it done within 30 days.
What has the reaction been?
Senator Graham, who sits on the armed services
committee, warned that the withdrawal would have "devastating
consequences" both in Syria and beyond.
He said that he feared it would mean ceding influence
in the region to Russia and Iran.
"An American withdrawal at this time would be a big
win for ISIS [IS], Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Russia," he said
in a statement.
Meanwhile, the UK government distanced itself from
President Trump's assertion that IS had now been defeated.
"Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of
the threat they pose," a statement from the Foreign Office said.
Israel said it had been told the US had "other ways to
have influence in the area" but would "study the timeline [of the
withdrawal], how it will be done and of course the implications for us".
Striking a different tone, Russian foreign ministry
spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the US decision could result in
"genuine, real prospects for a political settlement" in Syria.
A spokesman for Kurdish-led authorities in
north-eastern Syria, Aldar Xelil, said no-one was yet clear on details
of the withdrawal "including US commanders here"
However, the US decision would have an impact on the
entire region, he told Ronahi TV.
US allies concerned
By James Robbins, diplomatic correspondent, BBC News
The British government is stopping just short - at
least in public - of condemning President Trump's decision to pull US
forces out of Syria.
It said that IS remains a threat despite the
"important advances" that have been made in recent days.
In Syria, Kurdish forces fighting IS feel abandoned,
just as Turkey is vowing to step up attacks against the Kurds.
And the most powerful allies of Syria's President
Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran, are pleased by the decision.
They hope it will mean they can increase their power
in Syria and beyond.
Some 2,000 US troops have largely been stationed in
the Kurdish region in northern Syria.
A partnership with an alliance of Syrian Kurdish and
Arab fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, is credited with
playing a major role in the virtual elimination of IS after it overran
large swathes of Syria four years ago.
However, the militant group has not disappeared
A recent US report said there were still as many as
14,000 IS militants in Syria and even more in neighbouring Iraq - and
there is a fear they will shift to guerrilla tactics in an attempt to
rebuild their network.
But the partnership between the US and the Kurds has
enraged neighbouring Turkey, which views the Kurdish YPG militia - the
main fighting force in the SDF - as an extension of a banned Kurdish
group fighting for autonomy in Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan said his country might
soon start a new military
operation against the YPG in
Mr Erdogan added that he had discussed his plan with
Mr Trump by telephone and that he had given a "positive response".
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