US President Donald Trump giving a statement on withdrawing troops from Syria on Dember 19, 2018 | REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump overrode his top national security aides, blindsided U.S. ground commanders, and stunned lawmakers and allies with his order on Wednesday (December 19) for U.S. troops to leave Syria, a decision that upends American policy in the Middle East.
The result, said current and former officials and people briefed on the decision, will empower Russia and Iran and leave unfinished the goal of erasing the risk that Islamic State, or ISIS, which has lost all but a sliver territory, could rebuild.
Trump was moving toward his dramatic decision in recent weeks even as top aides tried to talk him out of it, determined to fulfill a campaign promise of limiting U.S. involvement militarily abroad, two senior officials said.
The move, which carries echoes of Trump’s repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate change accord, is in keeping with his America First philosophy and the pledge he made to end U.S. military involvement.
A U.S. defense official said Trump’s decision was widely seen in the Pentagon as benefiting Russia as well as Iran, both of which have used their support for the Syrian government to bolster their regional influence. Iran also has improved its ability to ship arms to Lebanese Hezbollah for use against Israel.
Asked who gained from the withdrawal, the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, replied: “Geopolitically Russia, regionally Iran.”
Another U.S. defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S military commanders had expressed concerns with the administration about what a rapid withdrawal would mean for U.S.-backed local forces fighting Islamic State.
The official said the plan to withdraw had caught the commanders by surprise.
Lawmakers from both parties complained that they were not briefed in advance of the decision.
French officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were scrambling to find out exactly what the announcement meant and how it will affect their participation in U.S.-led coalition operations against Islamic State.
Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced around half the country’s pre-war 22 million population and defied all efforts at diplomatic resolution. — Reuters