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Only 150 Troops Involved, but Stakes Are Much Bigger

Trump defends a Syrian withdrawal, while critics warn of the dangers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2019 10:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – The US isn't withdrawing all of its troops from Syria, but it is withdrawing the 150 or so soldiers stationed at two posts near the Syrian border with Turkey. However, the small numbers involved belie the major foreign policy implications at stake. The move will allow Turkey to stage a military strike on Kurdish-led forces, notes Reuters, which labels the move a "major policy shift" by the US. In the complicated stew of the region, these Kurdish fighters have been allied with the US in the fight against ISIS, but another US ally, Turkey, views them as a terrorists. Coverage:

  • Trump defends: In a series of tweets Monday, President Trump defended pulling back the US troops. It "is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home," he wrote. "WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out."
  • The criticism: Lindsey Graham is among those blasting the president's move, not only on Twitter but in a phone call to Fox News Monday morning, notes USA Today. He and other critics say the US is abandoning the Kurds, which could send them into an alliance with Syria and Iran, lead to the resurgence of ISIS, and send a bad message to other US allies. The move has "undone all the gains we've made" and "thrown the region into further chaos," said Graham. He labeled it a "stain on America's honor," while fellow GOP Sen. Marco Rubio called it a "grave mistake."

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  • Turkey's aim: Among other things, Turkey wants to drive the Kurds from the border region and establish a buffer zone of sorts there, reports the New York Times. The Turkish government plans to send at least 1 million Syrian refugees who've fled to Turkey in recent years to this zone.
  • A Trump boast and threat: After his initial tweets, Trump came back with another in a warning to Turkey. "As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)," he wrote.
  • Fighting words: The Kurdish fighters are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and they staked out a defiant stance ahead of an expected Turkish attack. “We in the SDF will not hesitate for a moment to defend ourselves and we call on our people of all sects and ethnicities ... to close ranks with their legitimate forces to defend our country against this Turkish aggression,” the group said, per the Wall Street Journal.
  • US presence: The US has about 1,000 troops elsewhere in Syria, reports the AP. This new withdrawal affects troops in the northeastern towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. (Last year, Trump announced a full US withdrawal of troops from Syria, which led in part to the resignation of defense chief James Mattis. Trump later relented on a full withdrawal.)
  • Other worries: The UN voiced worries about another exodus of refugees in renewed fighting. And Israel fears the withdrawal of US troops in Syria will make it easier for Iran to transport weapons to anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon, reports the Journal.
(Read more Kurds stories.)

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