The Wall Street Journal reports that all US forces will be withdrawn from Syria by the end of April. US officials told the WSJ that the Pentagon is making preparations to pull significant numbers of troops out in mid March with a complete withdrawal coming by the end of April, although the Trump administration has no plan to protect Kurdish allies from Turkish attacks once the US is gone.
Reuters reports their source, a US official, confirms the target of the withdrawal being April. At least 200 Americans will be withdrawn from a military base in the southern part of Syria that has provided checks on Iranian ambitions in the region, an official told the WSJ.
There has been little progress made in the forging of a political solution to prevent Turkey from attacking the Kurds, who are seen as terrorists by Turkey but are American allies in the fight against ISIS. Efforts to create a safe zone in northern Syria are running up against resistance from Turkey and against internal administration disagreements. Kurdish leaders have traveled to Washington seeking assurances that they will be protected from Turkey.
One official told the WSJ that, in spite of the lack of progress towards an agreement that would shield the Kurds and address Turkey’s concerns, “Decisions have to be made. At some point, we make political progress, or they’re going to have to tell the military to slow down, or we’re going to proceed without a political process.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, who is in charge of operations in the middle east, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is executing the president’s orders.
He said, “I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date, and I have not had any specific conditions put upon me. The fact is the president made a decision, and we are going to execute his orders here to withdraw all forces from Syria.” Votel also told the committee that, while he was aware that the president had “expressed a desire and an intent in the past to depart Syria”, he was not consulted prior to the president’s abrupt decision in December.
President Trump announced the withdrawal of more than 2,000 troops in December after speaking to Turkish president Erdogen, shocking US officials, allies, and even Erdogen himself. The surprise announcement led to the resignation of Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, who was also not consulted about the plan. Brett McGurk, who led the State Department’s fight against ISIS, also resigned.
The plans to withdraw come at a time when the US military is pushing to seize the last ISIS strongholds in Syria. On Wednesday, in a meeting with representatives of a 79 country anti ISIS coalition in Washington, President Trump stated that there should be a formal announcement next week that “we have 100% of the caliphate”.
However, upon the competed withdrawal, the US will be leaving Syria to the mercy of ISIS sleeper cells. This will increase the risk US troops faces as they withdraw.
While defense department spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, declined to discuss the timeline of the troop withdrawal, other defense officials say that troops have arrived in Syria to support the withdrawal and equipment has been moving out of Syria, according to the WSJ.