WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The White House has announced that it will leave some 200 troops in eastern Syria, even after the planned withdrawal of the 2000 US forces now there.
The US position now paves the way for the creation of a security zone, with international observers along the Turkish-Syrian border, after the US withdrawal.
Following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he would withdraw US forces from Syria, the idea of such a security zone, supported by US aircraft controlling the airspace, has emerged as the best way to prevent the Islamic State’s re-emergence and avoid clashes between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main partner in the war against the Islamic State in Syria.
However, European officials attending the Munich Security Conference last weekend made clear they would not participate in an international force in Syria if it did not include US troops.
The newly articulated US position dramatically changes the situation and paves the way for its creation.
“A small peacekeeping force of about 200 [US troops] will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement issued late on Thursday.
“Leaving even a small group of US 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,” Reuters noted.
The US announcement, almost certainly, will be welcomed by the SDF which has said that it would like to see an international force to guarantee a security zone in northeastern Syria.
The announcement follows a phone conversation between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ahead of meetings between the US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, with their Turkish counterparts on Friday in Washington.
The two presidents “discussed a number of issues including Syria and trade” and “agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone” in Syria, according to a US summary of their exchange.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) has taken a leading role in helping to ensure that the US withdrawal from Syria is done in a way that will preserve stability and not squander the hard-earned fruits of the military victory against the Islamic State.
Graham headed a bipartisan group of 17 US lawmakers attending the Munich Security Conference, and he engaged in a heated confrontation there with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Shanahan had been telling other countries that the US would reduce its troop presence in Syria to zero by April 30, but Graham strongly objected, calling it “the dumbest f—ing idea I’ve ever heard.”
However, that was only an initial bargaining position, a US official told The Washington Post, and the administration was ready to “potentially go up” to gain coalition support.
Following the White House announcement, Graham issued a statement applauding “Trump’s decision to leave a small contingent of American forces in Syria as part of an international stabilizing force.”
“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum,” Graham continued. “This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.”
Editing by Nadia Riva