President Donald Trump has announced the rapid and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The President made the announcement in a video posted on Twitter yesterday.
“We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years and we’ve really stepped it up and we have won against ISIS we’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly we’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” the President said.
“I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It’s a great honor, we cherish them but it’s heartbreaking. Now we’ve won. It’s time to come back. They’re getting ready. You’re gonna see them soon. These are great American heroes…” the President added.
The move came as a surprise to many in the White House as well as in the Trump administration, as many senior national security and Department of Defense officials urged President Trump not to pull U.S. troops out of Syria completely.
Officials who reportedly counseled the President against the decision include Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton. Withdrawing precipitously from the region would allow powers hostile to U.S. interests – namely Russia and Iran – to gain influence, they argue.
It will also assure that Bashar al-Assad the Syrian dictator who has twice been accused by the international community of using chemical weapons against his people stays in power for the foreseeable future.
Pushback from Republicans on Capitol Hill was swift.
“My sense is that it’s been a shock through the administration that this was made,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker. “It’s hard to imagine that any president would wake up and make this kind of decision with this little communication, with this little preparation. I mean, my understanding is that we’re beginning to move out right now.”
Corker spoke to reporters after returning to the Capitol from the White House. He was scheduled to meet with President Trump but was told the meeting was canceled as he waited in the White House.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was blunter in his assessment.
“I believe you are on course to make the same mistake President Obama made in Iraq. It will turn out no better for you than it did for him,” Graham wrote to President Trump on Twitter.
“The idea of outsourcing our national security and the fight against ISIS to Russia, Iran, and Assad/Syria is doomed to fail. It will result in an Open Borders policy for ISIS in Syria and elsewhere,” he added.
Graham’s comments solicited a reply from President Trump.
“So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$. Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals? Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!” the President wrote.
The decision contradicts comments made by U.S. officials in recent months.
“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” US special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk said on December 11.
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters during UN General Assembly week in September.
Administration officials however pushed back on the idea that the decision was unexpected.
“The President’s statements on this topic have been 100% consistent from the campaign through his announcement today, so I think the notion that anyone within the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that, quite frankly. It was the President’s decision to make and he made it,” a White House official told reporters today.
No official timeline has been given by the White House for the withdrawal. The U.S. has roughly 2,000 special ops personnel in Syria. Their mission is to advise and train the Syrian rebel forces that are fighting ISIS. They have been stationed in the country since 2014.
Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Zoe Garbarino