President Donald Trump saw harsh criticism from leaders on both sides of the political aisle earlier this week when he gave the order to remove U.S. troops from a number of “safe zones” in Northern Syria, opening up Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces to attack from the Turkish military. The president has made a number of statements defending this decision, including the suggestion that removing these troops was a move toward ending America’s “forever wars,” and claiming that America’s Kurdish partners that now find themselves under attack by one of America’s allies didn’t help the United States “with Normandy.”
However, statements from within Trump’s own administration contradict the idea that this decision was motivated by reducing America’s deployed workload, as the White House has since claimed that the troops that were previously serving in Northern Syria will simply be relocated to other nearby regions. Further, the presence of U.S. troops in the region was largely as a deterrent. These troops were not engaging Turkish forces, as Turkey would not launch an offensive in the region with American troops present, further dismantling the claim that their relocation will have any appreciable effect on the nearly twenty years of fighting that have gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former U.S. Central Command commander and now-retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the man who oversaw America’s fight against the Islamic State in the region until his departure from service earlier this year, took to the media this week to voice his disappointment in the president’s decision. In a piece he co-authored with Middle East Institute non-resident fellow Elizabeth Dent published in The Atlantic, Votel called Trump’s decision an “abrupt policy” that appeared to “abandon our Kurdish partners.”
In northeastern Syria, we had one of the most successful partnerships. The Islamic State was using Syria as a sanctuary to support its operations in Iraq and globally, including by hosting and training foreign fighters. We had to go after ISIS quickly and effectively. The answer came in the form of a small band of Kurdish forces pinned up against the Turkish border and fighting for their lives against ISIS militants in the Syrian town of Kobane in 2014,” he wrote.