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US must 'slow the withdrawal' from Syria

January 19, 2019

Days after the "Islamic State" militant group killed US troops on Syrian soil, a senator has warned against pulling out quickly. The White House has yet to release details on how it plans to end the US presence in Syria.

A US-backed SDF fighter in Syria
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/S. Backhaus

Veteran US Senator Lindsey Graham on Saturday urged President Donald Trump to reassess how fast American troops are withdrawn from Syria, saying it could have disastrous effects in the region.

Trump's decision to withdraw US troops and declare victory over the "Islamic State" militant group triggered criticism from military officials, defense experts and even allies. The decision also prompted then-Defense Secretary James Mattis and anti-IS coalition envoy Brett McGurk to resign.

A bold move:

  • The White House last month announced Trump's decision to withdraw some 2,000 troops from Syria. Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria."
  • Allies in Syria criticized Trump's decision, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces — which have been fighting IS with US support for years now — calling it a "shocking step."
  • Germany and other European countries criticized Trump for claiming victory over IS in Syria, with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying the "threat is not yet over."
  • Since then, Turkey has backed down on an assault to clear out Kurdish militias along the border region with Syria. Trump threatened to "devastate Turkey economically" if it attacked Kurds in Syria.

Read more: Trump: US to 'devastate Turkey economically' if it attacks Syrian Kurds

Withdrawal 'will start new war'

US Senator Graham said:

  • "I would hope that President Trump would slow the withdrawal until we truly destroy ISIS."
  • "A withdrawal that does not outline the points I have made will not end the war against ISIS, it will start a new war."
  • "This war will be a necessity by Turkey, to go into Syria and clear out armed elements that Turkey believes poses a threat to its sovereignty."
  • "Here's the good news: General Dunford, I think, has a plan that he's working on with the Turkish military that can accomplish these objectives and they are to move the YPG elements away from Turkey."

Read more: Kurds see their dreams go up in smoke in Syria

Unclear plans

Details of the withdrawal remain unclear. Earlier this month, Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan to discuss a way forward. According to the Turkish presidency, they spoke about establishing a safe zone in northern Syria.

However, a day after their discussion, two US soldiers and two US civilians were killed in a suicide bomb attack claimed by IS, making it one of the worst — if not the deadliest — attack on US personnel in Syria since 2015.

The White House has not announced when the withdrawal will take place and how quickly it will be completed.

Read more: Donald Trump's motives for Syria withdrawal remain as murky as its implementation

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2 years of presidential power

ls/ (AFP, Reuters, AP)