Assessment: US To Withdraw Forces From Syria

President Donald Trump has begun withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday, 19th of December that they have succeeded in their mission to defeat the Islamic State, and U.S. officials said Washington is considering removing all its forces from the country.

Assessment:

In the beginning we may observe the following:

First, the declared goal of the deployment of the US-led coalition forces in Syria in 2014, which was announced by Obama administration during his second term as president, is “Defeating ISIS, by which responsibilities can be transferred to the local Syrian forces, and therefore, the US forces can withdraw from Syria”.

Second, Trump announced for the first time his intention to withdraw his military forces from Syria on 29th of March 2018 and confirmed a week later that the timing of withdrawal is linked to the achievement of the declared goal (defeating ISIS). However, this goal is not entirely achieved.

Third, after defeating ISIS in Syria, the US forces cannot easily remain there, because their presence could be a violation of Syrian national sovereignty in front of the international community. It’s already being exploited by Russia and Turkey with their national interest’s contrary to the US military presence in Syria. On the other hand, France also announced withdrawing its forces from Syria, but UK did not till now.

Fourth, there is no doubt that the US military withdrawal from Syria will support the Russian-Turkish-Iranian strategy to share the political influence in Syria (keeping Bashar Assad), but it will increase the cost of their presence in Syria especially Russia, because Russia will have to widen its responsibility to secure the security vacuum left by the US.

Fifth, the US force withdrawal will also prevent the possibility of any military confrontation between US and Turkish forces during the upcoming Turkish military operations against the Kurds in the eastern Euphrates in the city of Manbij, which is a severe blow to the Syrian Democratic Army, the Syrian ally of the US forces, which is  mainly composed of Kurds who helped the US troops against ISIS in Syria.

Sixth, above all, we have to notice that Trump, upon the withdrawal announcement, did not specify the timing of the withdrawal of his troops from Syria and has not set any time-plan so far, anyway, Trump tries to do all possible procedures to support his second round of the presidency election.

Possible impacts of the US forces withdrawal from Syria:

  1. It’d negatively effect on Saudi influence in Syria (the US ally in the region). Considering that the decision of Trump to withdraw the US troops from Syria, despite not finishing its mission of defeating ISIS entirely in Syria could be a response by Trump to the pressure of Congress on him because of his constant support for Saudi Arabia and forcing him and Bin Salman calming the situation in Yemen.
  2. The US withdrawal seems to be in Russia’s favor, but the US may regard it as a more extensive military Russian involvement in the mud, which is beyond the Russian capabilities for longer periods. Accordingly, Washington may see the withdrawal of its troops from Syria is a source of pressure on Moscow, not vice versa.
  3. It will provide an opportunity for the US Administration to re-settle the US-Turkish relations in order to return Turkey to the American-Western side as it was; on the other hand, to undermine the efforts of the expansion of Russian influence in the Middle East, Est Mediterranean and the Balkans regions.
  4. The Syrian Democratic Force (“SDF” the local ally to the US forces in Syria) which is mostly Kurds, will be a prey to Turkey, but Russia could be ready to find a place to those Kurdish forces in the Russian map of the Syrian order.
  5. Israel, which supports the separation of the Kurdish state should be angry now; it may prepare for an Israeli military strike against Hezbollah and its allies in Syria; however, Russia expects this hostile action and I think that Russia is in constant contact with Israel, Hezbollah and Iran to avoid it.
  6. After defeating the Kurds in Syria in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army, Erdogan may start to face Bashar Al Assad. But can Erdogan bear the cost? Especially that the political cost could be greater than the Turkish capabilities.

 

Major General. Sayed Ghoneim
Fellow, Nasser Higher Military Academy
Chairman, Institute of Global Security & Defense Affairs (IGSDA – Online)