Donald Trump says others should fight Islamic State in Syria after decision to withdraw US troops
US President Donald Trump has defended his decision to pull American troops out of Syria following a backlash from fellow Republicans and shock from global allies.
- Donald Trump says it’s “time for others to finally fight” in the war against IS in Syria
- The decision to withdraw troops up-ends a central pillar of US policy in the Middle East
- France and Germany say the change of course risks damaging the fight against IS
The Trump administration will withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops in Syria, with the White House declaring victory in the mission to defeat Islamic State militants there.
The troop announcement has up-ended a central pillar of US policy in the Middle East. At home, some politicians on both sides of the political aisle urged Mr Trump to reverse course.
But the President defended his decision, tweeting that he was fulfilling a promise from his 2016 presidential campaign to leave Syria.
The United States was doing the work of other countries with little in return and it was “time for others to finally fight”, he wrote.
Donald Trump tweets Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria
Donald Trump tweets Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doin
Donald Trump tweets Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others
US officials said the troop withdrawal is expected to mean an end to the US air campaign against IS in Syria. The US-led air war has been critical to rolling back the militants there and in neighbouring Iraq, with more than 100,000 bombs and missiles fired at targets in the two countries since 2015.
Mr Trump’s abrupt end to the United States’ campaign in Syria against IS alarmed Western allies as well as Washington’s Kurdish battle partners.
NATO allies France and Germany said Washington’s change of course on Syria risked damaging the fight against IS. Some of Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans said the troop pull-out also strengthened the hand of Russia and Iran in the country.
Republican senator Lindsay Graham joined Democrats to implore Mr Trump to keep about 2,000 US soldiers deployed in Syria.
Mr Graham said a withdrawal would be a blow to Washington’s Kurdish-led allies and would benefit America’s enemies.
“This is a big gift to them and this is a devastating decision for our allies. When you find somebody who will fight with you, you need to reward them,” Mr Graham said.
Donald Trump tweets So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of
France, a leading member of the US-led coalition against IS, said it would keep its troops in northern Syria for now and contested Mr Trump’s assertion the group had been defeated in the country.
“Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organisation must be defeated militarily once and for all,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter.
France has about 1,100 troops in Iraq and Syria providing logistics, training and heavy artillery support as well as fighter jets. In Syria it has dozens of special forces, military advisers and some foreign office personnel.
French UN ambassador Francois Delattre told the UN Security Council the assessment by Paris was IS continues to be a threat for the Middle East’s Levant region.
“In the upcoming weeks France will be ensuring very carefully that the security of all US partners be ensured, including the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Mr Delattre said.
“It is important for the United States to take into account the protection of the people in the north-east of Syria and the stability of this area to make sure that we avoid any new humanitarian tragedy or any resurgence of terrorism.”
Commanders concerned over impact of quick pull-out
The troop withdrawal is expected to mean an end to the US air campaign in Syria. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
Still, one US official said a final decision on the air campaign had not been made, and did not rule out some kind of support for partners and allies.
The United States told the UN Security Council it was committed to the “permanent destruction” of Islamic State in Syria and would keep pushing for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces in the country.
The roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria, many of them special forces, were ostensibly helping to combat IS but were also seen as a possible bulwark against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has retaken much of the country from his foes in the civil war, with military help from Iran and Russia.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that US commanders on the ground were concerned about the impact of a quick withdrawal and were surprised by the troop pull-out decision.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have been fighting IS with US support for three years, said the withdrawal of troops would grant the militants breathing space to regroup at a critical stage in the conflict and leave Syrians stuck between “the claws of hostile parties” fighting for territory in the seven-year-old war.
The SDF are in the final stages of a campaign to recapture areas seized by the militants.
But they face the threat of a military incursion by Turkey, which considers the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearhead the force to be a terrorist group, and Syrian forces committed to restoring Mr Assad’s control over the whole country.
The SDF said the battle against IS had reached a decisive phase that required more support, not a precipitate US withdrawal.