US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. 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.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.

Leave a comment

21 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  February 23, 2019

    To be fair, Trump has been left, like Obama was, with having to deal with the Almighty mess created by another arrogant and ignorant US president who decided it would be a piece of piss to invade Iraq, under false pretences, depose Sadam Hussein & bring American freedom to a thereafter adoring population who would be forever grateful to the US for its beneficence. Without that invasion, and the complicity of other Western countries whose leaders let themselves get sucked in by Cheney & Rumsfeld, there’d have been no ISIS & no ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism throughout Europe for any country involved in wars in the ME. Trump wants to walk away from the mess the US created. Maybe all the other Western countries should? European countries haven’t liked being invaded by other countries either.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  February 23, 2019

      The others haven’t swanked about how they’ve beaten Isis, etc, etc, which goads Isis into showing that no, they haven’t.

      Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  February 23, 2019

    The Iraqi military is on a high alert for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters who attempt to flee across the border as the fight continues in the village of Baghouz, the last ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.

    There are concerns that the ISIL fighters could try and regroup in areas once controlled by the armed group in northern and western Iraq.

    Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reports from Mosul.
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/iraq-high-alert-isil-fighters-fleeing-syria-190221123815533.html

    Reply
  3. Corky

     /  February 23, 2019

    The remaining 200 troops are terrorist bait. It’s just a matter of who kills them first..Muhammad or Abdul?

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  February 23, 2019

      be more like 5-600…armed to the teeth.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  February 23, 2019

        I would say so.

        But I think that the post was meant to sound clever . (?)

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  February 23, 2019

          It’s a real barrel of laughs if having their heads on a pole is instigated by either Muhammed or Addul. Perhaps the Yanks get to choose? Maybe that would spice things up?

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  February 23, 2019

            Only a person with a sick sense of humour would laugh at that.

            Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  February 23, 2019

            A person who found it amusing when a Maori woman was refused a flat on racist grounds might find it funny to see a beheading with the head on a pole.

            Reply
  4. Finbaar Rustle

     /  February 23, 2019

    Angry men do so much damage .

    Reply
  5. The Consultant

     /  February 23, 2019

    To be fair, Trump has been left, like Obama was, with having to deal with the Almighty mess created by another arrogant and ignorant US president….
    ….Without that invasion, and the complicity of other Western countries whose leaders let themselves get sucked in by Cheney & Rumsfeld, there’d have been no ISIS & no ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism throughout Europe for any country involved in wars in the ME

    Let’s not forget the Obama-Clinton intervention in Libya in 2011, or the fact that Britain and France led the charge there and persuaded Hillary to join, who then persauded an admittedly reluctant Obama. Let’s also not forget that the US rep in the UN, Samantha Power, she of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide authorial fame, defended all that under the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) policy.

    You don’t hear much about the UN’s R2P nowadays. It carries almost as bad a smell as Bush’s Iraq intervention.

    Then there’s Syria. As recently as 2011, Assad was boasting about how leaders like him were necessary in the ME in order to keep a lid on things; getting rid of Saddam meant that worse creatures would fill the vaccum. It was a persuasive argument, which is why John Kerry smooched up with him and his “Desert Rose” – right up until a revolution exploded under Assad’s nose. Naturally every conspiracy theory kook in the world – largely driven by Syria’s decades old mate, Russia – claimed it was all down to the evil machinations of Obama. Utter crap. There’d been revolts against old man Assad’s rule before – the one on 1982 saw him surround the city of Homs with artillery and shell it to pieces: 20,000 died and it hardly made the Western news. The 2011 revolt was wider.

    And ISIS came out of Syria after 2011. It moved into Iraq because the government there was weak, and it certainly got Iraqi Jihadists who’d lost against the US during the Surge in 2007-2008 and gone to ground, but it was primarily an outgrowth of the Syrian conflict. So we would have got it even without Bush’s invasion.

    As much as people want to focus on Bush, or even the USA, we basically now have three models of the ME:

    – Full invasion with boots on the ground to depose a totalitarian government (Iraq/Saddam) – and watch it fill up with Jihadists and explode in civil war.

    – Air power combined with local revolutionaries to depose a totalitarian government (Libya/Gaddafi) – and watch it fill up with Jihadists and explode in civil war.

    – Ignore it completely and leave in place a totalitarian government (Syria/Assad) – and watch it fill up with Jihadists and explode in civil war. Cue Egypt, Morrocco, Tunisia, Algeria,….

    There is Jordan as a good model, but I have to wonder how much of that is down to their current leader. What happens when he dies? How much has he changed that Arabic, Islamic society.

    I certainly don’t want any Western force involved in the ME: not one more ounce of treasure nor one drop of blood from the West. But I have this awful feeling that the West will be dragged into it anyway in the future.

    Reply
  6. NOEL

     /  February 23, 2019

    So Trump lost that one.
    Thought he would get away with just providing a couple of Forward Air Controllers to the multinational observer force.
    https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/22/politics/syria-us-troops-donald-trump/index.html

    Reply
  7. The Consultant

     /  February 23, 2019

    And what’s with this praise of Lyndsey Graham? He’s agin Trump so that’s good enough for the TDS sufferers.

    Graham fully supported the Iraq invasion and the ongoing surges, as did that other well-knonw GOP Trump hater, McCain and they’ve frequently advocated other military interventions in the ME by the USA, including Syria.

    You know! The people you’re supposed to hate if you hate ME intervention. But now…. Trump!!!

    BTW – here’s a great little YouTube piece on all the leading Democrats who supported intervention in Iraq. They’re not minor players and unlike the hatred and fury reserved for Bush, they’ve all gone in their political careers:
    – John Kerry, Democrat POTUS candidate 2004. Secretary of State, 2013-2017.
    – Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, 2009-2013. Democrat POTUS candidate 2016.
    – Harry Reid, went on to be Senate Leader, 2007-2015
    – Nancy Pelosi, House Leader 2007-2011, and now again in 2019. Still blathering about foreign policy too I see.
    – Joe Biden, US VP 2009-2017, and high up in the polls for 2020 Democrat POTUS.

    Amazing how none of these fuckers have suffered in their careers for their support of the Iraq War – although we can make one exception for Hillary because it was undoubtedly a big reason for her loss to Obama in 2008. But all was forgiven by 2015.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  February 23, 2019

      I don’t know what your point is. Every American government attacks and threatens to attack other countries or groups within them. It always argues its righteousness for interfering to protect, project or promote US interests.

      Reply
      • The Consultant

         /  February 23, 2019

        My point is obvious: Democrats get forgiven for this sort of shit far more than the GOP, and all the time, and about the only time that the Left in other countries say “Oh of course” to this is when it’s brought up by Righties like me.

        We’ll see all this over the next two years as we head for another US Presidential election, right here in NZ and on this and other NZ blogs. It’d be good if it was accompanied by a lessor-of-two-evils argument, but that’s not even demonstrable, as Clinton’s and Obama’s use of military force overseas has shown.

        It’s tribalism, pure and simple. Which I can understand in the context of the USA, since we’ve always had the same thing here. But to see the talking points of US tribal partisanship simply repeated in NZ as ideological points has always been farcical.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  February 23, 2019

          I don’t forgive either the Democrats or the Republicans for their warmongery. It’s the American way – hypocrisy and military solutions that embroil them and others in a mess because hubris is also the American way.

          From my perspective whichever party is employing whatever military option or strategy is criticised by the other for being ineffective and bad at it.

          Reply
  8. David

     /  February 23, 2019

    Thank you President Trump for cleaning up the mess your predecessors left you, dont expect any credit because like in the situation with North Korea where they havent missile or nuclear tested in 18 months thanks to you the world cant bring itself to acknowledge your old fashioned approach delivers some pretty good results. NATO being strengthened is something else they wont credit you with.\Anyway have a look at the photos of the end of one of the most abhorrent episodes in recent history coming to an end and largely because you let your generals get on with the job and damn the headlines.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6735849/Truckloads-ISIS-fighters-jihadi-brides-line-leave-terrorists-frontline.html

    Reply

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