In a surprise move, President Trump has declared victory over ISIS in Syria, and the White House has confirmed that a complete withdrawal of US military forces from Syria has been ordered. Officials also say the State Department will be withdrawn in the next 24 hours.
This would see an estimated 2,000 US troops pulled from Syria, which comes after many months of Pentagon officials positioning the military presence as a very long-term one. No one seems to have anticipated this announcement.
In the immediate lead-up to the announcement, however, the Trump Administration has been telegraphing a post-war mindset a bit, with special envoy James Jeffrey confirming earlier this week that the US accepts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is staying in office.
That’s a big shift after years of demanding regime change at the end of the war. Now, US officials are just insisting that no reconstruction aid will be provided unless the Assad government changes substantially.
The announcement is expected to start a lot of arguments, with a number of Congressional hawks already positioning themselves as vehemently opposed to the pullout. Hawks within the administration will likely oppose the plan as well, and the Pentagon seems to have planned to just stay in Syria permanently.
British Defense Minister Tobias Ellwood issued his own statement rejecting Trump’s announcement, saying he “strongly disagrees” with the assessment that ISIS is defeated. It is unclear if Britain intends to keep attacking Syria on their own.
The biggest impact of a US pullout is likely to be in Syrian Kurdistan, where Turkey is threatening an invasion, and the Pentagon has been warning that would be “unacceptable.” President Trump spoke to the Turkish president just a few days ago, and if a pullout was imminent then, they presumably would’ve discussed the matter, and the implications. This may explain President Erdogan having the impression that Trump endorsed his invasion.
It’s not clear how long it will take for the US to get 2,000 troops out of Syria, and some military officials may drag their heels on the matter, hoping that they can talk the president out of ending the war. For now, however, there is reason to hope that the American involvement in the war is about to be over.