Hello Goodbye? What Lies Behind Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Statement
News of the day: Donald Trump tweeted about the victory over ISIL in Syria and gave order to completely withdraw the US troops from the country. He is said to have made this decision himself, and it was immediately called a big mistake in the United States. Valdai Club expert Vladimir Evseev, head of the Eurasian integration and SCO development department of the CIS Countries Institute, believes that it is too early to draw any conclusions: we need to wait for real actions by the United States, because the American president’s statements are often rhetorical. Trump has already declared that the US would leave Syria, but this did not happen.
Purpose of Donald Trump’s statement
Trump’s goal is to show that he was able to defeat the Islamic State. However, his statement was made specifically for the Americans and does not reflect the real situation on the battlefield. According to the Americans, they “triumphed” over ISIL in the city of Raqqa (however, this is quite controversial, because the city now lies in ruins) and destroyed the remains of ISIL in the eastern part of the Deir ez-Zor province.
If Americans, for example, left the Al-Tanf base, that would be evidence of real withdrawal of the US troops from Syria. Until this happens, all of President Trump’s words should be seen as bluff.
What can happen in reality?
If the Syrian Democratic Forces can manage to establish control over the territories in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor that are now controlled by radical Islamists, it would be possible to reduce the American military presence there – but not more.
However, there is a factor that can seriously hinder this – this is Turkey’s actions against the Kurdish canton of Kobani. If Turkey begins a military operation similar to Operation Olive Branch, carried out in the canton of Afrin, the Syrian Democratic Forces will have to withdraw their units from the east bank of the Euphrates to defend the Kobani canton. In these conditions, there can be no reduction of the American military presence in Syria.
Another question is that if Damascus establishes control over the eastern part of the Deir ez-Zor province in the future, the issue of the American military presence at the Al-Tanf base will be raised. The American Al-Tanf base is needed only if the US controls the eastern part of the Deir ez-Zor province.
What can Russia do?
In the future – for example, in the summer of 2019 – Russia could potentially deploy an S-300 air defense system at a military airfield near the town of Deir ez-Zor. It could deploy electronic warfare systems there, too. Thus, Russia can push for the withdrawal of the US troops.
Moreover, Russia may raise the issue of the Rukban refugee camp, located near the Al-Tanf base. There are many radical militants in the refugee camp – in fact, under the protection of the United States.
What could be the reaction of the US allies?
According to Syrian Kurds, the United States commits another betrayal. This has already happened in the canton of Afrin (it should be noted that Russia has no obligations to protect the Kurds, unlike the Americans), we already saw this in Manbij, when the United States agreed to form joint patrols with the Turkish military. Such betrayal can happen now – in the canton of Kobani. Trump’s announcement pushes the Syrian Kurds to dialogue with Damascus.
Naturally, the statement about the US troops withdrawal is welcomed in Damascus, but concrete actions are expected. Currently, there are about two thousand American troops in Syria. Moreover, they are located not only at the Al-Tanf base, but also in other sites (from 12 to 20).
In any case, the US military presence in Syria is under big question and its influence will diminish. Goals that were set are not achieved. Even creating a Kurdish quasi-state will not work – because there is a serious Arab opposition against the Kurds, in the eastern part of the Deir-ez-Zor province. Such confrontation makes it virtually impossible to create a large stable state, while a limited state would be under constant attack from Turkey.