After mixed messages were sent out about the United States’ mission in Syria and the Middle East, President Donald Trump has unexpectedly ordered for United States troops to be pulled out of Syria. The order has been followed, according to the Pentagon, as troops are beginning the withdrawal process.
The order declared by the President on Dec. 19 called for troops to start leaving Syria. Col. Sean Ryan, an anti-ISIS spokesman, said “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” in a statement sent to the Associated Press.
The news of the order to withdraw came as the United States and Turkey discussed protection guarantees for United States allied Kurdish fighters. The Kurdish YPG militia, whose acronym translates to “People’s Protection Units,” works as a defense force in the Kurdish area of Syria.
The unexpected withdrawal ordered by President Trump has caused questions and criticism about the ways ISIS is being handled. There are concerns that leaving Syria before ISIS is completely defeated, leaves the Kurdish allies to fight alone. These concerns fuel the mixed messages sent by the government about their priorities for being in the Middle East.
Turkey welcomed the unexpected order while other NATO allies of the United States claimed to have not been given any notice. The withdrawal led to disagreement within the Trump administration, quickly leading to the resignations of the Defense Secretary James Mattis and Trump’s envoy to the coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk. Heightened concern also erupted on Capitol Hill that the decision to leave Syria allowed a win for Iran, left Kurdish allies to a potential attack by Turkey and lessened United States influence in Syria.
While officials are unsure how long the full pullout from Syria will take, but on Dec. 23, the President hinted that it may take longer than expected. He said there would be a “slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is attempting to ease the arising concerns. While calling the United States a “force for good,” he stated that the country will follow the President’s orders “in a way that makes sense, that is orderly, that does everything we can to ensure the security of those who fought alongside us defeating the caliphate inside of Syria.”
In the following weeks, administration officials began adding conditions that could delay a troop departure and have stopped discussing the timelines in which this may occur.
More recently, the deaths of four Americans in Syria has raised even more questions about the sudden decision made by Trump. The suicide bombing that killed four people was claimed by the Islamic State only weeks after President Trump claimed that the extremist group of ISIS has been defeated and called for the removal of troops.
The attack occurred at the American military convoy in the city of Manbij, Syria. It was the sixth major attack, at least of those done by the Islamic State in less than a month, according to one U.S. official. Criticism against Trump’s plans, including members of his own party, seem to believe that his claim of victory over ISIS may have encouraged the attack.
As condolences were given by the White House, Vice President Mike Pence stated that the Islamic State had been defeated.
“Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities,” said Pence. “As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate—not now, not ever.”
The White House says there are no plans to reverse the order of pulling the troops out of Syria. The bombing sparked debate urging the President to keep the troops in Syria until ISIS is definitively defeated. Analysts say the tragedy could deepen Trump’s desire to leave the country he believes is made of “sand and death.”