US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has signed an order outlining the details and timeframe for US troops to leave Syria, officials confirmed. Donald Trump says Turkey will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in the country.
“The execute order for Syria has been signed,” AFP reported, citing a US military spokesman. Defense officials have also confirmed the move to various American media.
No timeline or specific details of the forthcoming withdrawal of some 2,000 troops have been revealed, with security apparently at stake.
The decision by US President Donald Trump to pull forces out of the region has found little support among his allies either at home or abroad. It’s been described as premature and ill-conceived, while critics say the move will concede America’s foothold in northeastern Syria for nothing.
Mainstream media have blasted Trump for emboldening Iran and giving a “Christmas gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US president himself complained of unfair treatment by the media, arguing that any other politician would have attracted praise for ending a war.
He tweeted that he’s now relying on Turkey to “eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria.”
President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
Ankara has been the only US NATO ally to express cautious support for the controversial decision. In the aftermath of the announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would put on hold its planned operation in northeast Syria, promising to “wait a little longer.”
However, the Turkish leader, who sees both Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and US-backed Kurdish militias as terrorist forces, noted that this does not mean that the incursion will not take place at some point.
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“Of course, this is not an open-ended waiting period,” Erdogan said.
The change of heart was allegedly triggered by a phone call with Trump on December 14, during which the US president reportedly made a decision to pull out the troops, apparently on the spur of the moment.
The details of the conversation between the two leaders have been leaked to media. AP reported, citing Turkish and US officials, that Trump was provided with “talking points,” according to which he should have opposed a looming Turkish invasion in Syria and offered Turkey “something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border” in return.
However, Trump seems to have gone off-script and found nothing to counter Erdogan when the Turkish president asked him why US troops remain in Syria when its only goal – to defeat ISIS – had been completed.
Without putting down the phone, Trump asked his National Security Advisor John Bolton the same question, reportedly forcing him to concede that the Turkish strongman was right; and Hajin, a small city on along the Euphrates River, is the only ISIS stronghold still standing.
After Trump promised Erdogan that he would remove the US forces, the president’s advisers and top brass attempted to persuade him to at least delay the withdrawal, but without success.
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