United States to leave troops in southern Syria as bulwark against Iran

Posted January 11, 2019

The vacancies, current and former officials say, hamper USA engagement in the region as Trump and his top deputies grapple with some of the toughest foreign-policy challenges Washington faces: extricating US troops from the war in Syria, countering Iran, dealing with a devastating civil war in Yemen, continuing counterterrorism operations, and patching up a long-simmering rift between Persian Gulf states.

But it was comments made by Bolton on Sunday in Israel that had already raised hackles in Ankara, when he suggested the retreat was also conditional on the safety of US-backed Kurdish fighters, considered terrorists by Turkey.

It was Erdoğan who gave the first impressions over the talks between Bolton and Kalın in his weekly address to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group. Though orders have been given to the USA military to begin preparing for withdrawal, troops will carry out operations against the militant group as they leave.

But Pompeo used the speech to try to counter criticism that the USA decision to withdraw its 2,200 troops from Syria could lead to an ISIS resurgence.

Casting Iran as a "cancerous influence", Pompeo said the USA had "reimposed sanctions that should never have been lifted".

The fear is not only that those foreign fighters could help ISIS rebuild in Syria and Iraq without a USA military presence, but that they could return to their own countries and launch attacks.

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In Israel on Sunday, Bolton said that the USA troops would remain in Syria until ISIS is defeated and not able to revive.

The vacancies are especially problematic as the Trump administration continues to send contradictory messages about its policies toward friends and foes in the region.

- Maintain the United States presence at the southern base, al-Tanf, at this time. "You could read this as obscuring a continued USA retrenchment from Middle Eastern commitments", Alterman added.

"He (Mr Erdogan) talked about terrorists being an existential threat, we acknowledged that there is a threat to Turkey from terrorists and we will be very supportive".

After Bolton's stop in Israel, he was suddenly uninvited to meet with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan - apparently a result of Bolton's demand that Turkey not attack pro-US Kurdish fighters in Syria.

He also gets along with White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in addition to having good relations with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Turkey has always been signaling of a third operation in YPG-held territory in Syria which the country sees a national threat to itself. Iranian officials, Trump said, "can do what they want" in Syria.

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Speaking from Ramallah earlier this week, a PA source said that nothing had changed on this matter.

"But", he said, "I am sympathetic to the problem that Turkey has with some elements of the YPG, and my hope is that we can find a way to make sure that Turkey feels assured that our efforts in Syria do not jeopardize the security of Turkey".

Identifying as an evangelical Christian, Pompeo lauded the UAE's recognition of Israel at a judo competition late last year, a move he said had been two years in the making.

Mr Pompeo was speaking in Cairo three weeks after President Donald Trump said United States troops were pulling out of Syria.

His comments come one day after Mr Erdogan lambasted the United States for suggesting that Ankara needed to guarantee the safety of Kurdish groups in Syria before Washington would withdraw its forces.

One objective, of course, is the comprehensive defeat of ISIS in Syria.

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Israel sees Iranian entrenchment in Syria as a major threat and has carried out hundreds of airstrikes to thwart Tehran and proxy terror group Hezbollah, but the campaign has seemingly been curbed amid tensions with Russian Federation over a downed spy plane a year ago.