In a shocking video announcement on Twitter, President Donald Trump informed the world of his decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria. In the statement released on December 19th, Trump claims that “we’ve beaten [ISIS] badly, we’ve taken back the land, and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” ABC News reports that within thirty days, all of the 2,000 U.S. troops currently present in Syria will have returned home. The decision to withdraw is highly controversial, and has been widely criticized by members of both parties—including some of Trump’s closest advisors and members of the Republican party.
Trump’s announcement was made days after some of his top advisors, including the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Joseph Dunford, claimed that the the job in Syria had a “long way to go” in regards to stabilization. Brett McGurk, the National Security Advisor, said of Syrian occupation, “You can’t just defeat the physical space and then leave. You have to make sure that the internal security forces are in place to ensure that those security gains are enduring.” History supports the idea that a newly secured area of land requires extended military presence. As recently as Obama’s administration in 2011, Obama’s decision to pull troops from Iraq proved to be premature. Three short years after the U.S. withdrew in 2011, ISIS invaded and acquired the land. This led many—including Trump, during his 2016 campaign—to claim that Obama’s decision “created ISIS.” Republican senator Lindsey Graham related the two events when he said that Trump’s decision is an “Obama-like move,” and “everything that happened in Iraq is going to happen in Syria unless we change course.” During its presence in Syria, the U.S. military was able to clear an area of Eastern Syria of both ISIS and Assad—the Syrian president backed by both Russia and Iran.
While this area now has the opportunity to rebuild, Graham and others believe the region is not yet strong enough to defend itself from Assad’s attempts to regain the territory once the U.S. has cleared the country. Of the 35,000 to 45,000 local Syrian troops required for the defense of the region, only about twenty percent have completed training, according to Dunford. Trump’s motivation behind this withdrawal is likely both to reduce the number of troops harmed in the line of duty as well as fulfill a highly publicized campaign promise made during the 2016 election. Alongside his criticisms of Obama’s actions on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Trump made promises to voters that he would, within his term as president, bring home American troops from Syria.
As the 2020 election looms, the Trump administration will likely be looking for many ways to make good on various promises from the previous election. His sudden decision regarding America’s presence in Syria may be part of this effort. In the months and years to come, members of both parties will be watching closely to find out how Trump’s latest decision will play out for the government and people of Syria.