U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement last month to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops stunned allies who had joined Washington in an intervention in Syria against the Islamic State group and indirectly against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Senior U.S. officials were caught off-guard by Trump’s seemingly impulsive decision, including Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis who quit in protest.
Spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State group Colonel Sean Ryan said the coalition "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements."
However, Russian Information Agency Novosti (RIA) reported that Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus government, has stated that it had the impression that the United States intended to stay despite the announced withdrawal,
Indeed, residents near border crossings that are typically used by U.S. forces moving in and out of Syria from Iraq said they had seen no obvious or large-scale movement of U.S. ground forces Friday, Reuters reported.
Now the eight-year-long Syrian war is rife with fresh uncertainties over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across the northern and eastern regions of Syria, where U.S. forces have been stationed.
Regional and foreign powers involved in the Syrian war, which began in March 2011 amid Arab Spring protests and uprisings are jockeying for position. Turkey has announced aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces allied with the United States. Russia and Syrian government see the chance to recover a huge chunk of territory.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested Tuesday that protecting Washington's Kurdish allies would be a precondition of the U.S. withdrawal. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan rebuked, calling Bolton’s comments "a serious mistake".
Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, has been touring the Middle East this week to reassure allies of Washington's commitment to “regional security,” said Thursday that the withdrawal would not be thwarted despite Turkish threats.
Kurdish groups who control the north have turned to Moscow and Damascus with hopes of striking a political deal that will stave off Turkey and shield their autonomy in the north, Reuters reported.