On October 6, the White House issued a statement saying that as the Turks are pushing ahead with their military operation, the US forces, having defeated Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)* in the region, "will no longer be in the immediate area".
The statement further clarified that Turkey "will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years" by US and allied forces.
The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 7 октября 2019 г.
The next day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that US troops had started to pull-out from parts of northeast Syria.
The announcement triggered a storm of criticism on the both sides of the American political spectrum which practically overshadowed the Trump administration's Monday clarification that only 50 to 100 US special operations forces were withdrawing and moving to other locations in Syria.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col Myles B. Caggins III tweeted on 9 October that the Pentagon "ha[s] moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety" adding that "no changes to [the US] force presence in Syria" had been made.
PENTAGON STATEMENT @ChiefPentSpox: "Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria." pic.twitter.com/gJ6Jdih3W9— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) 8 октября 2019 г.
On the same day President Trump announced on Twitter that 50 US soldiers had already been moved out of the region, stressing that "the stupid endless wars, for [the US], are ending". According to some estimates, there are about 1,000 or so American soldiers in northern Syria.
Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending! https://t.co/Fbcem9i55Z— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 9 октября 2019 г.
Previously, President Donald Trump has repeatedly announced his determination to withdraw US military personnel from Syria but somehow his vows did not translate into action. Mark Sleboda, an international affairs and security analyst and former nuclear reactor operator in the US Navy, has expressed skepticism with regard to the withdrawal controversy and shared concerns about the potential Turkish military operation in the region.
Sputnik: What's your take on the long-anticipated pull-out? What was the trigger for this move? Why did Donald Trump decide to go for it after months of hesitation and flip-flopping?
Mark Sleboda: Despite Trump’s increasingly unhinged and often contradictory Twitter rants, there is no indication that the US is beginning a withdrawal of troops or ending its illegal military occupation of east Syria. Current evidence is that the US has just pulled somewhere from between 100-150 US troops out of the Sunni Arab majority towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain near the Turkish border, effectively evacuating US troops only from the claimed 25-30 mile Turkish “safe zone” and pulling them back further south into US-occupied east Syria. And it must be noted that the US Deep State including the Pentagon, intelligence services and Department of State, as well as both parties in Congress, object to even that, so there is no guarantee that it will actually happen.
Sputnik: Turkey announced Monday that it would kick off a military op in northern Syria to "eliminate terror elements", and "to ensure the safe return of refugees" in Syria. Given that Turkey regards YPG located in northern Syria as terrorists, should one expect a new phase of military confrontation in Syria? What's Damascus' stance on the upcoming operation? How could the Kurdish-dominated militias evade the potential bloodbath?
Mark Sleboda: As the Erdogan regime seems more intent on actually carrying through with their long-voiced threats to invade and militarily occupy Syria east of the Euphrates this time and the Syrian Kurds in the YPG/SDF have said they will resist any Turkish incursion into east Syria, it seems hard to imagine how this will not begin a new phase of military conflict in Syria. The Syrian government, along with their allies Russia and Iran, have all condemned this announced and impending new Turkish invasion. Their position is that the forces of both the Turkish and American regimes are unwanted, uninvited, and illegal invaders, violating Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and must all withdraw immediately and go back to their own countries.
Theoretically the Kurds in east Syria could make a Johnny-come-lately desperate appeal to the Syrian government to protect them, but it is unlikely that Damascus will risk direct military confrontation at this time with Turkey in order to do so, considering the Kurds have until this point refused political reconciliation and acted as the willing proxies of the US military occupation of east Syria.
It is likely that the Syrian government would coldly calculate and prefer to let the Turks and Kurds fight and exhaust each other, and then deal with whoever is left standing in the end, as the last threat to Syrian territorial integrity to be dealt with. Assuming that is the Turkish military, they may even have been convinced by losses at that point, that Syria is a quagmire they are better off just withdrawing from.
Sputnik: There are a number of prisons holding captive Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)* fighters in the Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. In late September Trump ruled out transporting the terrorists to the Guantanamo prison. How could the Turkish advance affect those facilities?
Mark Sleboda: From what the Erdogan regime has announced at least, at the moment they only intend to invade and militarily occupy a swathe of Syrian territory east of the Euphrates 25-30 miles deep along the Turkish border. Most of the prisons and displacement camps where captured ISIS fighters and their families are held are further to the south in US-occupied east Syria and should not be directly affected by the Turkish invasion.
The Kurdish YPG/SDF have publicly threatened to withdraw their troops guarding these facilities in order to defend against the Turkish incursion, but it is unlikely that they would simply release the prisoners or leave them completely undefended as this would release jihadist fighters they would just have to fight again in territory they already control, opening themselves up to a new threat in their rear.
More than likely, control of these camps will simply pass over to US and allied European troops in these areas as well as the not insignificant number of US-backed SDF forces who are Syrian Arabs rather than Syrian Kurds.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.