Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria November 4, 2018\ RODI SAID/ REUTERS.
In an stunning reversal of policy, the U.S. military is reportedly considering withdrawing its forces from Syria, U.S. officials told Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
Another report by the Wall Street Journal said, citing U.S. officials, that the U.S. is preparing for a complete withdrawl of its some 2,000 troops from northeastern Syria. The paper cited sources people familiar with the matter, adding that the “move that throws the American strategy in the Middle East into turmoil.”
U.S. officials also told Reuters on Wednesday, that the U.S. is considering a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Islamic State.
The decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term U.S. military presence in Syria, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior U.S. officials had advocated to help ensure Islamic State cannot reemerge.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the presence of U.S. forces in Syria was becoming a dangerous obstacle to finding a peace settlement and accused Washington of keeping its forces there illegally.
“From being a factor in the fight against terrorism, the illegal American presence in Syria is becoming a dangerous obstacle to the path to a settlement,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.
The U.S. committed in September to keep troops in Syria indefinitely to bolster Kurdish forces in the northeast of the country in an effort to keep Iranian influence out of the area. According to the Washington Post, the deployment amounts to U.S. troops being in “overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.”
Turkey has complained over the slow implementation of a deal with Washington to pull YPG Kurdish fighters out of Manbij, which lies in mainly Arab territory west of the Euphrates, back to the eastern bank of the river.
“Manbij is a place where Arabs live, but they have surrendered the area to the terror organisation,” Erdogan told members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in a speech in Istanbul. “Now we are saying that you should cleanse, remove them, or else we will enter Manbij. I am speaking very clearly.”