What can the US still accomplish before Trump’s Syria withdrawal?

What can the US still accomplish before Trump’s Syria withdrawal?

By Luke Vargas   
Published
An American F-15E combat aircraft at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush
An American F-15E combat aircraft at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. (Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush/U.S. Air Force)

President Trump is reportedly racing to leave Syria by April, casting doubt on whether the U.S. will honor stated requirements before leaving.

UNITED NATIONS – Foreign policy circles are abuzz about whether President Trump will keep U.S. troops in Syria long enough to fulfill several of his own requirements before a withdrawal.

Those include wiping out the Islamic State, protecting Kurdish allies and establishing a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Trump insists ISIS is on the verge of defeat, but where does that leave the other two goals, and will they be cast aside in pursuit of an April withdrawal?

“The president has signaled his desire to get out of Syria.

Michael Eisenstadt directs the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

“He was initially dissuaded by several of his senior advisers. But in the end from his point of view, as he said, it’s only death and desert. That’s where he is today, or at least where he was just a few days ago. Where he’ll be next week or in the coming weeks, who knows?”

Trump said last month that he’d discuss a safe zone and Kurdish protection with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, though Erdogan said this week he had yet to hear any American proposals.

That may be because the NATO allies aren’t on the same page. America wants to protect Kurds using a buffer to keep Turkey and its proxies out of Syria, while Turkey wants to police the safe zone and confront the Kurds.

Regardless of whether a deal is reached on paper, it’s becoming clear the U.S. will have little control in Syria after a withdrawal, which could explain why Trump recently said he was open to leaving behind a small contingent of U.S. troops.

Eisenstadt doubts that would accomplish much, considering America’s physical presence has been key in uniting Kurdish and Arab forces against ISIS and shielding them from Russia, Syrian or Turkish interference.

“We’ve kind of been the glue to keep this coalition together, and if we disappear will the Syrian Democratic Forces as we know them continue to exist? Like this big Jenga tower, we’re kind of this critical piece that it’s not clear what happens when we pull it out.”

Unlike Jenga, these pieces can’t easily be re-stacked once they fall apart. 

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