Sputnik News – As convoys of American troops withdrew from northern Syria and crossed into Iraq, US President Donald Trump said on Monday that a “small” contingent of US Special Forces would remain in eastern Syria.
During a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Monday, Donald Trump announced that a few troops would be staying in different parts of Syria, some near the border with Jordan and Israel, while another group would be protecting the oil fields, despite the previously announced “full withdrawal” prior to the launch of Turkey’s offensive.
“These comments are further evidence that there is no consistent American policy on Syria, and the Middle East more broadly”, Dr Joseph Fitsanakis, an associate professor of Politics in Intelligence and National Security Studies programme at Coastal Carolina University, points out.
“There is no question that American foreign policy is gradually shifting its attention away from the Middle East. This started with President Obama and is continuing under the current President”, the scholar added.
According to Dr Fitsanakis, while such policy changes usually take several years or much longer, under Trump, it’s all unfolding quicker than anyone would have expected.
“This shows that the current president is unaccustomed to the gradual process of change in politics. But it also shows that, through trial and error, he is realising that he cannot make drastic changes in a region that is as volatile and unstable as the Middle East”.
The expert also believes that American troops will continue to have a presence in Syria until the end of Trump’s term.
Dr Djene R. Bajalan, a Missouri State University professor, for his part, notes that Trump’s latest plan to keep a small contingent in eastern Syria is an example of the “impulsive” and “chaotic” policymaking process in the White House.
“The president does not seem to possess a clear understanding of the regional dynamics. Moreover, it is evident that the traditional policymaking process has broken down. Nevertheless, the president possesses enormous latitude in matters of foreign and military policy. Hence, the contradictory impulses of the president are reflected in broader US policy, which seems to change on a whim”, Professor Bajalan explains.
Similar views are echoed by Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of research of the foreign policy programme at the Brookings Institution, who says that this policy creates too much chaos and confusion.
“A couple hundred US troops in the south and a couple hundred in the east may be enough to help secure those areas in conjunction with American airpower and local allies. That’s why I favour keeping both, even if we (regrettably) leave the northern swath of the Kurdish-majority territory near the border with Turkey”, Mr O’Hanlon noted.
Even though Trump has defended the Syria troop pullout saying the US must stop fighting “endless wars” in the Middle East, his Monday decision to keep a small contingent seems to contradict his earlier statement.
But Dr Max Abrahms, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and the author of ‘Rules for Rebels’: The Science of Victory in Militant History, believes that Trump has always been torn in two different directions.
“On one hand, he has been deeply critical of regime change wars, nation-building, and long-term US occupations especially in Muslim majority countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. […] On the other hand, Trump also sells himself as a counterterrorism hardliner. And even when he decides to remove US forces from Afghanistan to Syria, the think tank community in DC tells him to reconsider. This tension has led to a halting, contradictory policy where the president often announces troop withdrawals only to reverse his initial stance”, Dr Abrahms elaborates.
The US president’s decision to withdraw American soldiers from Syria has drawn criticism from his supporters and US allies, with many arguing that it gave the green light to Turkey to begin its offensive against the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in northern Syria, who’ve helped US troops fight the Daesh* terror group in the country.
Turkey deems the YPG group to be terrorists, linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) outlawed by Ankara. Turkey claims it operation in Syria is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces away from the Syrian-Turkish border and creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria where up to 3 million Syrian refugees can be resettled.
While the Trump administration managed to broker a 120-hour ceasefire with Ankara to allow the pullout of Kurdish-led forces from the area, it is set to expire at 1900 GMT on Tuesday and Ankara is expected to continue its Operation Peace Spring in the area.
“Indeed the US will stay in Syria”, Dr Taleb Ibrahim, a Syrian political analyst and deputy director of the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies has argued, but “not for fighting ISIS* [Daesh] but for other geopolitical goals, such as preventing any coordination and cooperation between Syria, Iraq and Iran, and because of the treasures inside the Syrian desert, like silicons, gas and oil reserves, and because of the existence of great amounts of lithium in the salt mines”, he stresses.
*Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State/IS), a terrorist group banned in Russia and a wide number of other countries.
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