In a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump announced a planned, yet rapid withdrawal of American forces from Syria. This represents a dynamic move, which is bound to alter the Geo-political set up in the Middle East.
US forces stationed in Syria mainly operate in the reclusive North Eastern part of the country, close to the Turkish border, providing assistance and training to allied militia the YPG and the SDF. The timing of the move is bound to raise questions as ISIS is regrouping in areas earlier declared as being cleared by local militias.
Analysts have raised significant doubts over the planned disengagement. In their fight against ISIS, Syrian Kurds in the Northern part of the country had effectively wiped out the terrorist outfit and were at a defining stage of installing a clear leadership for the movement. However, as ISIS regroups in areas around Raqqa, US cooperation was essential to attain persistent goals in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey recognizes Syrian Kurds as being their adversaries, whom the US forces have largely kept under check, thereby preventing them from confronting Ankara. The alliance of US forces, SDF and YPG gave a definitive direction to the fight against Islamist extremism in both Syria and Iraq.
Perhaps the most strategically crucial element of American presence was that it prevented Tehran and Moscow from gaining ground in the flat stretch of land as the former continues to traverse Syrian territory in an attempt to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon. Russia also seeks to improve its position with Damascus as its ally in a battlefield igniting cold war-like tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurds in Syria whom the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blatantly labeled as terrorists. As Kurd battle formations have US Special forces attached to them, it is difficult for NATO member Turkey to mount an offensive against the former. As the Erdogan is under domestic pressure to act decisively, he has been considerate enough to not harm American troops in the region.
With Washington’s withdrawal, there will be nothing holding Turkey back which has lately cozied up to Moscow. Vladimir Putin also stands to benefit from the move as there will be no one to stop him from gaining a decisive influence in the Levant along with Iran.
The controversial move came minutes after ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack in its erstwhile seat of power, Raqqa. US withdrawal is bound to strengthen Russian and Iranian influence in the fragile region which could even prove to be irreversible. The changing dynamics of power relations in the Middle East will be further intensified as Moscow looks set to fill the void left by its adversary falling back in the face of a “fabricated victory”.