Trump is leaving the fight against ISIS (and influence in the Middle East) to Russia and Iran

It was set to be the most discreet yet potent measure of US influence in the Middle East.

Over 2,000 American special forces in the north of Syria, fighting the fight against ISIS, but also providing a significant bang for their buck.

But to widespread surprise, US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that the US intends to rapidly withdraw from Syria.

The troops out there had managed three things to date:

US troops in SyriaFirst, they fought ISIS alongside the Syrian Kurds who run that area of north Syria. The fight was edging towards its end, but was also at a key stage of mopping up potent leadership and denying them the chance to regroup.

They could have remained there indefinitely, chasing ISIS militants in the desert. But for now, their goals were palpable and persistent. ISIS has been regrouping and the fight was not done.

As Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute pointed out, ISIS issued a claim of responsibility for an attack in Raqqa just ten minutes before Trump’s announcement.


islamic-state-fighters-wave-flags-as-they-take-part-in-a-military-parade-along-the-streets-of-northern-raqqa-province-syria-june-30-2014-reutersstringerSecond, they kept the Syrian Kurds slightly in check. This may sound odd, given they are arming and assisting a group of Kurdish fighters that Turkey, the US’s NATO ally to the north, considers terrorists. But the truth is that so long as the Americans remained there, the chance of the Syrian Kurds, known when working with their Arab partners as the SDF, attacking Turkey was limited.

Third is the most important part of the US presence, which may be missed the most by Washington’s allies. They provided a very forceful and blatant block to Iranian and Russian influence in the present and future Syria.

Iran has been accused of using that stretch of flat, open Syria to send weapons to its partners Hezbollah in Lebanon. That threatens Israel. Iran calls the accusations of their poor behavior in the region “hysterical statements” invented by people wanting to paint Iran as “an imaginary enemy.”

Russia was also seeking to improve its and the Syrian regime’s standing in the area. The Americans were not messing around: on one February night they may have killed dozens of Russian mercenaries trying to assist Assad’s forces in retaking an oil field. These Americans were effective and heavily armed.

And their bases were not temporary structures. The runways were paved, the defenses serious. Nobody expected to be going anywhere.

Which leads us to this question: why, given the major gains of the presence and its relatively minor numbers, did Trump, the Commander in Chief, do this?

The timing is curious. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for days been threatening to send in his troops to attack and push back the Syrian Kurds allied with the US Special Forces. He sees them as a threat — explicitly calls them terrorists — and is under domestic pressure to act tough.

The one thing that has always held him back was the risk that US troops might get caught up in the onslaught.

If they are not there, that risk evaporates. Turkey is a NATO ally and the US’s embrace of the Kurds in the ISIS fight has irritated Ankara and led them to get closer to Moscow. This move may reverse that.

Another beneficiary will be Vladimir Putin. Without the US in the ring, Russia is the main military force in the post-war Syria. However you divine it, Trump seems to have few qualms about doing things that will please Putin. Finally, this sudden move repeats something the US has a history of: abandoning the Kurds in the Middle East.

They did so after the first Gulf War, and many cynical Kurds knew it was only a matter of time before they pulled back here, in northern Syria, leaving them to face the Turkish music.

The issue here is that this departure is unexpected, startling and apparently counter to several major US policy interests. Which will leave many in the US and elsewhere wondering why Trump has decided to do this now.

  • Niemals

    Washington’s decision gives Iran a second front in its war against Israel and leaves IS active, whatever Trump says – it erodes US standing on the world stage and gives Putin even more power in the Mideast.

    Retired top Army General warns: Trump is a “serious threat” to national security ….

  • MaryTPresumptuous

    Trump handed Turkey their “put up or shut up” moment for the thing for the embrace of the Western Democracies for which (so the thinking goes) they have long lusted. But that lust was a younger man’s secular dream that Erdogan traded-in for an old man’s Islamic indulgence. Trump expects Turkey will reassert its old Ottoman self across Syria and stand against the neighbors to the East. But Trump hasn’t fathomed that Turkey has “gone native” and, instead, should have been asked to leave NATO on its way out the door on its trip to the other side.

    • Niemals

      Turkey should have been asked to leave NATO on its way out the door on its trip to the other side. 🚨

  • Niemals

    Al-Bashir is accused of directing attacks against civilians in Darfur.

    Is that the reason that Hind Abyad is pointing out that the Sudanese President Arrives in Syria Aboard Russian Plane as Mailman of the Saudis?
    An arrest warrant for al-Bashir was issued on 4 March 2009 by a Pre-Trial chamber indicting him on five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (pillaging and intentionally directing attacks against civilians).
    ICC issues a warrant of arrest for Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan. Archived from the original on 10 March 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
    The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for genocide.
    However, one of the three judges wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Omar Al Bashir has committed the crime of genocide.”.

    In July 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, accused al-Bashir of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.
    The court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on 4 March 2009 on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for genocide.
    However, on 12 July 2010, the Court issued a second warrant containing three separate counts of genocide. The new warrant, like the first, was delivered to the Sudanese government, which did not recognize it nor the ICC.
    The indictments do not allege that Bashir personally took part in such activities; instead, they say that he is “suspected of being criminally responsible, as an indirect co-perpetrator”
    Some international experts think it is unlikely that Ocampo has enough evidence to prove the allegations.
    The court’s decision is opposed by the African Union, League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China.

    El-Bashir wants Damascus to return to the Arab League – who expelled Syria in 2012 – when he is recognised by the Arabs as the legitimate president of the country. Syria is a state and will behave as such, not seeking revenge but offering a part of the Damascene cake to share with everyone prepared to help rebuild the country.