Trump and Irony of Troop Withdrawal

On Wednesday, December 19, President Trump announced his plan to evacuate the nearly 2,000 United States troops stationed in Syria, saying, “We have won against ISIS.” This abrupt announcement rattled allies such as Britain and Israel, who have been working closely with U.S. troops to battle the terrorist organization. President Trump later modified his initial statement, dropping his insistence on an immediate withdrawal and saying instead that he would allow the troops to “finish their mission.” While we wait to see when troops will be brought home, we can acknowledge that this change in position represents yet another instance when the President has made a rash decision and then changed his stance after consultation with aides. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the President’s confident dismissal of ISIS is not supported by evidence; therefore, troops must remain in Syria until the ISIS “caliphate” is completely eradicated. 

After the recent attack in Manbij, a city that has seen nearly all sides of the war in Syria, the President’s claims seem especially dubious.  On January 16, 2019, an ISIS suicide bomber in Manbij killed 19 people, including four Americans, the sixth attack claimed by ISIS in the past month. President Trump’s statements have also been discredited by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Syrian-led force that is working with the U.S. to eliminate ISIS in Syria. Much of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) focus has been on a group of towns on the banks of the Euphrates River in Eastern Syria, which are still controlled by ISIS and have resisted American and SDF joint efforts for years. Just in that area, there are estimated to be anywhere from two to eight thousand ISIS fighters. SDF leadership stated, “The war against [the] Islamic State has not ended, and the group has not been defeated.” Without U.S. aid, the SDF will undoubtedly fall to the Islamic State, which will then likely continue expanding control throughout the country. 

Less than two weeks prior to President Trump’s announcement, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also directly contradicted the president’s position. In a statement, Dunford stated that 35,000 local troops would be needed to prevent resurgence of ISIS in Syria and that American forces still had a long way to go in assisting them. If the President follows through with an immediate withdrawal, the few properly trained Syrian forces will be overrun. 

Removing American troops from Syria in haste will leave a power vacuum that would likely be filled by countries hostile to our interests or dissolve into violent chaos. Russian president Vladimir Putin openly support the withdrawal, suggesting he may intend to extend Russian influence into the region.  A sudden withdrawal is also likely spark conflict between the Israel and Iran. Iran has already deployed forces in the war-torn area and is expected to add more if we depart. On January 21, the Israeli military confirmed an air strike on Iranian forces stationed in Syria. With tension between Israel and Iran already at an all-time high, if American forces leave the area, there the potential for catastrophic conflict between the two nations increases drastically. 

It is important that the Trump administration continue to take ISIS seriously and that the President worry less about his pride and more about devising a concrete plan on how to eradicate ISIS as quickly as possible. If we cannot eradicate cells in a city like Manbij, over which we believed we had firm control, how can we even imagine to do so in other cities throughout the country? Before a complete withdrawal, it is important that we help build up positive cultural changes in Syria. Syria has been ravaged by terrible war for years, and if only a fraction of our troops stationed there could focus on building schools, mosques, and other cultural amenities, they would be doing great good. Although it is unlikely it is that President Trump would approve an idea like this one, a program such as this could be exponentially beneficial to the country after our departure.