Trump orders full withdrawal of US troops from Syria, claims victory

The withdrawal decision is likely to be viewed positively by Ankara, and comes following several conversations between Trump and Erdoğan
Kurdish militants and U.S. troops patrol near the Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, on Nov. 4. | Rodi Said/Reuters
Wednesday, 19 December 2018 22:59

The Trump administration has begun to withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops from Syria, as US President Donald Trump declared non-existing "American victory in the mission to defeat Islamic State (IS, ISIS)" terrorist there.

"We've won against ISIS," Trump said in a short video posted on Twitter.

"We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land. And now it's time for our troops to come back home."

A decision to pull out completely, confirmed by US officials and expected in the coming months.

A withdrawal plunges into uncertainty the fate of US-backed Syrian Kurdish militants. But the US may have signaled this move on December 17, when America’s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey told the Atlantic Council think tank that "we do not have permanent relationships with substate entities. That is not the policy of this administration and has not been the policy of other administrations."

Many of the remaining US troops in Syria are special operations forces working closely with Kurdish militants known as the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). The YPG makes up a major component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The partnership with the YPG and SDF over the past several years has outraged Turkey's AKP government.

The withdrawal decision is likely to be viewed positively by U.S. ally Ankara, and comes following several conversations between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the past several weeks. The two spoke at the G-20 summit in Argentina and in a phone call last Friday. 

Erdoğan said Monday that Trump had approved of the prospective military operation that Ankara was planning to launch in Syria against American-backed Kurdish militants on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river in Syria. However, the US State Department has disputed that claim.

In a sign of possible rapprochement, just hours before the withdrawal decision became public, the State Department said Wednesday it had approved the $3.5 billion sale of Patriot missiles and associated equipment to Turkey. Ankara had complained that the US was slow walking requests for air defenses and had signed a deal with Russia to buy a sophisticated system in a deal.

One US official said Washington aimed to withdraw troops within 60 to 100 days and said the U.S. State Department was evacuating all its personnel in Syria within 24 hours.

Most US troops are stationed in northern Syria, though a small contingent is based at a garrison in Al-Tanaf, near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.