The US involvement in Syria has been controversial ever since it began. That’s hardly surprising – our troops went in there with little clarity about what they were supposed to be doing. It wasn’t even obvious what enemy they’d been sent there to defeat; were they on the ground to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, or to continue the failed policy of regime change that’s made the region such a mess? Now the confusion even extends to whether they’re coming home or not. President Trump says he’s bringing our soldiers home – but some of his officials don’t seem so sure.
- US troops have been in Syria since September 2014 as part of an international coalition. Their main mission was to fight ISIS, backed up by US and allied air power, but the job was complicated by regional politics – especially connected to Turkey – and the last administration’s hostility to the Syrian government.
- Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve has multiple jobs. It trains Iraqi security forces, protects allied locations in the region, coordinates operations against ISIS and controls special forces units.
- On December 19, President Trump announced that ISIS had been defeated, and ordered the withdrawal of all US forces in Syria.
- Both parts of this announcement were controversial. Some US lawmakers, including many Republicans, were concerned that the withdrawal would increase Iranian influence in Syria – although as Iran is an ally of the Syrian government, and already has thousands of troops in the country fighting ISIS, it’s hard to see how much more influential they could get.
- Others, including the British government, dispute the idea that ISIS has been defeated. They say the group has changed, not disappeared, and is still a threat.
- Originally, the Pentagon said all US troops would be out of Syria within 30 days of the announcement – but the withdrawal didn’t even begin until last Friday.
- It now looks like, at the very least, it will take several months before the last American soldier leaves Syria – if it happens at all.
- National Security Advisor, John Bolton, said last Sunday that the US wasn’t leaving until Turkey gave assurances that it wouldn’t attack the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, which the US sees as a key ally and Turkey sees as a terrorist group.
- Turkey is refusing to give any assurances and is openly gearing up for an offensive against the SDF. Only US protection of the SDF can deter that. So if the US stands by the Kurds – as we have done up until now – it doesn’t look like we’ll be bringing all our troops home anytime soon.