Alan Lis: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria

The decision to withdraw the US troops fighting ISIS, known also as ISIL and IS, in Syria is one of the most controversial ones made by President Donal Trump. This announcement came as shocking news, as the ISIS fighters, have not been entirely defeated yet. Although it is true that the overwhelming majority of the IS units have been crashed by either side taking part in the military struggle in Syria-be it the Americans, Russians, Iran-backed Hezbollah, or the forces loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar al Assad- there are still some units of ISIL fighters defending what is left of their Caliphate.

The decision of Mr. Trump met with an extraordinary astonishment of many, including some of his advisors, and criticisms of even more. James Mattis, the, now former, Secretary of Defense resigned from his post, largely motivating his resignation with this very decision of Mr.Trump, expressing his opposition towards bringing American troops back home in a letter to the president, and suggesting Mr Trump that he deserves a secretary of state whose views are to a larger extent similar with his. Clearly, losing a Secretary of Defense of such military experience- Mattis is a four-star retired general- has been a profound loss for the Trump administration. More recently, Pentagon admitted that there is a chance of ISIS resurging in the months to come. In addition to that, General Votel, who has been leading the fight against the IS officially disagreed with Mr. Trump’s decision pointing at two things: that ISIL has not yet been defeated, and that US-backed forces in Syria are not able to effectively counter its threat on their own. 

Trump’s decision of withdrawing troops from Syria strikes as similar to Obama’s military withdrawal from Iraq. There is one fact, however, that is often looked over- Mr. Obama withdrew the US troops because he did not have much choice- the Iraqi government did not agree to let them stay longer. Indeed, in 2011, the Obama administration failed to negotiate the stay of, at least some part of, the American forces in Iraq, what resulted in bringing American troops home. In effect of such, President Obama fulfilled his election-campaign promise, the US budget was relieved to an extent, and the Iraqi authorities were pleased to clear their country out of the US military- both countries, one may assume, should have been satisfied. However, in the result of American soldiers going back home, Iraqi society lost its shield protecting from Maliki and his sectarian rule. Iraqis became vulnerable to Maliki’s violent and oppressive government, which only strengthened peoples’ frustration and mobilised many young and desperate men to seek protection for them and their families in extremist jihadi groups. As one of such was ISIS, it could be argued that the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a factor that eventually contributed, to an extent, to the rise of this very organization. Now, one may only wonder what will happen in Syria once the US troops will leave. 

To be fair, there has already been a taster of what to expect. Almost a month after Trump announced his decision, on the 16th of January, four Americans and at least 10 other people died in the explosion, responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS. That attack suggested, as argued by General Votel, that Syria is not ready for the US forces to be withdrawn. Violence does continue and certainly will do so.

The US forces shall remain present in Syria until the military capabilities of ISIS are destroyed completely and the internal situation of Syria becomes more stable. Although it is fairly impossible to eliminate every single terrorist affiliated with ISIS, the international effort, led by the US, must be continued until virtually all networks are destroyed and every scrap of a territory is recaptured, so that ISIS does not hold any stronghold. Otherwise, there is a great risk that either the resurgence of ISIS or creation of the ISIS’s successor, would take place sooner rather than later.


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