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Boats 12-22-2018 01:34 PM

Syria Deploys Reinforcements in Response to President Trump's Plan to Pull U.S. Troop
Syria Deploys Reinforcements in Response to President Trump's Plan to Pull U.S. Troops

(BEIRUT) — Syrian troops have sent reinforcements to the eastern province of Deir el-Zour close to an enclave controlled by the Islamic State group and along the front with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters, a war monitor and pro-government pages on social media said Saturday.

The reinforcements arrived after U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria. Trump has now declared victory over IS, contradicting assessments by his own experts, with many lawmakers calling his decision rash and dangerous.

A senior Kurdish politician on Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the U.S. withdrawal.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government sent thousands of its elite forces to Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq, where IS holds the last area under its control in Syria.

The Observatory said the troops and pro-government fighters were deployed on the west banks of the Euphrates River close to the IS-held enclave, mostly in the towns of Mayadeen and Boukamal. It added that troops brought to the area include members of the Tiger Force, an elite unit that defeated rebels and IS gunmen on several fronts over the past two years.

A pro-government Facebook page posted a photo of Tiger Force commander Brig. Gen. Suheil and also reported that troops under his command have arrived in Deir el-Zour. It also posted photos of military vehicles said to be arriving in the area.

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been trying to capture the area from IS since Sept. 10. The battles have left hundreds of IS and SDF fighters dead.

On Friday, senior Kurdish politician Ilham Ahmed warned in Paris that SDF fighters may have to withdraw from the front lines in the fight against IS to deploy along the borders with Turkey after Ankara said it plans to carry an attack.

The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said the troops were deployed for a possible attack on IS or to assume control of areas that could be evacuated by SDF fighters.

In Washington, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting IS, has resigned in protest to Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, joining Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in an administration exodus of experienced national security officials.

Only 11 days ago, McGurk had said it would be “reckless” to consider IS defeated and therefore would be unwise to bring American forces home. He decided to speed up his plan to leave in mid-February.

Earlier Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. military presence in Syria has damaged the region in the government’s first comments on Trump’s plan to pull U.S. troops from the war-torn country.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Bahram Ghasemi, ministry spokesman, as saying the presence of U.S. troops during Syria’s civil war has damaged peace and security in the region.

“Basically, the deployment and presence of U.S. forces in the region was wrong, illogical and a tension-maker,” said Ghasemi.

Iran has been a key supporter of the Syrian government and along with Russia helped turn the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

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Boats 12-22-2018 01:42 PM

The US Envoy On ISIS, Brett McGurk, Quit In Protest Over Trump's Withdrawal From Syri
The US Envoy On ISIS, Brett McGurk, Quit In Protest Over Trump's Withdrawal From Syria
By: Amber Jamieson - BuzzFeed News Reporter - 12/22/18, at 12:56 p.m. ET

The US envoy for the global coalition to fight ISIS, Brett McGurk, is resigning over President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, BuzzFeed News has been told.

McGurk, who has served in the post since 2015, had been set to leave his position in February, but moved forward his departure to Dec. 31 because he disagreed with Trump's plans. His resignation came just one day after Defense Secretary James Mattis announced he was leaving the Trump administration because of differing views with the president on defense and foreign policy.

In a resignation letter given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and described to the Associated Press, McGurk said that, contrary to Trump's claims, militants in Syria were not yet defeated and that pulling US forces would encourage the growth of ISIS.

Just 11 days ago, McGurk said it was "reckless" to think ISIS was defeated and said the battle against the militant group was a "long-term initiative."

"Nobody working on these issues day to day is complacent. Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished," he said at a State Department briefing. "Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign."

Yet, Trump suddenly announced the withdrawal of troops on Wednesday, writing on Twitter, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

In subsequent posts he seemed to acknowledge that ISIS had not been totally eliminated but still maintained it was time for US forces to return home.

"On Syria, we were originally going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago - we never left," he tweeted Saturday. "When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!"

Many national security experts, as well as several top Republicans, have expressed alarm at the president's decision, which was subsequently followed by an announcement that Trump was withdrawing 7,000 troops from Afghanistan.

The Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS, where McGurk serves as the US Special Envoy, was set up by former president Obama in 2014. The next meeting of the 79-partner coalition is to be held in February.

The president initially claimed Mattis was retiring, however in his resignation letter released publicly, Mattis made clear his frustrations with Trump's decisions.

"We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances," Mattis wrote, suggesting the president was emboldening US enemies, including Russia, by leaving Syria.

"Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position," he wrote.

Mattis will continue in his role until the end of February.

About the writer & Mike Giglio contributed reporting.

Boats 12-22-2018 01:45 PM

Trump’s Syria Announcement Underscores U.S. Policy Meltdown
Trump’s Syria Announcement Underscores U.S. Policy Meltdown
By: Daniel Brumberg - DECEMBER 22, 2018

President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to pull 2,000 US troops out of northern Syria has shocked US policymakers and political leaders across the political spectrum, not to mention Washington’s western allies. Thus far, there has been little reaction from Israel and the Gulf states, although it is likely that the level of dismay is equally high. Not surprisingly, President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the decision. In a transparent bid to flatter Trump, the Russian president claimed that the United States has already dealt the Islamic State (IS) “serious blows.”

The problem, as IS watchers (and many in the US Congress) know—and as Pentagon officials have stated—is that the Islamic State is far from dead. Further, the US program to train Kurdish fighters is far from complete. But the larger and more fundamental issue, as this author has noted previously, is that the Trump Administration has no coherent strategy regarding Syria. Even if US and Kurdish troops managed to deal a final blow to IS, which would be an unlikely outcome, Washington would still face the daunting task of forging a wider Syria policy that would translate this potential tactical gain into a strategic dividend.

The IS problem is inextricably linked to two fundamental questions. First, how could the Syrian state be reconstituted with a system of governance that would invite—rather than hinder—national reconciliation? Second, what role can, or will, regional and global players play in fostering this dynamic? In reality, when it comes to both issues, the United States has little leverage. The key countries that are calling the shots are Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and how these countries will react to Trump’s decision will prove decisive. What they have working in their favor is the simple fact that when it comes to both Syria and Iran, the Trump Administration’s policies are in total disarray.

The Russian, Iranian, and Turkish Perspectives

There is little doubt that for Russia and Iran, Trump’s decision represents an opportunity. The presence of 2,000 troops in Syria—and the critical role that these troops have played in training largely Kurdish forces—has raised the specter of a post-conflict Syria divided into multiple zones, one of which might become a more-or-less permanent base for US troops. The withdrawal of these troops will make it easier for Moscow and Tehran to advance a political solution that would ensure that President Bashar al-Assad and his allies remain in power for a long time—and this is precisely the outcome that Russia and Iran favor.

That said, the US pullout could also be somewhat problematic—at least in the short run. The American presence has provided some hedge against a possible Turkish attack on Kurdish forces on the eastern side of the Euphrates. The fact that Kurdish forces, backed by the United States, played a key role in the war against IS raises the prospect that if and when Ankara launches its campaign, IS will be the chief beneficiary. This, however, would represent a tactical rather than strategic headache for Moscow and Tehran; as both have already shown, they have the means and the will to confront the Islamic State. Moreover, while Turkey’s assault on Kurdish forces would present Russia and Iran with new challenges, the fact of the matter is that in the last year, Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara have made a concerted effort to forge a common position on Syria’s political future through the Russian-directed Astana process. Turkey—whose president has repeatedly insisted that Assad is a “terrorist” and can play no role in Syria’s future—has now moved closer to Moscow and Tehran, and this strongly suggests that the three countries will find a way to manage the Kurdish issue, one that is consonant with their basic strategic interests.

This does not mean that Ankara can go after the Kurds without paying a price. On the contrary, a full throttle attack could invite an escalation of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Syria and in Turkey itself. Such a dynamic would play into IS’s hands while also inviting the prospect of fierce retaliation by Kurdish forces in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an would surely not welcome either outcome. Still, with US forces out of the way (and thus relieved of pressures to coordinate policy with the Trump Administration) and buoyed by its extensive military capacity, Turkey will have ample leverage to manage possible frictions with Russia and Iran. If Erdo?an is smart rather than reckless, the Russia-Iran-Turkey entente on Syria will endure.

U.S. Middle East Policy Is in Meltdown

Whether such a prospect represents an opportunity or a problem for US interests largely depends on how one defines those interests. From a realist position, it is possible to argue that standing aside and letting the regional players sort out Syria’s political future is the better of the bad options for Washington. One can also argue, again from a realist perspective, that had the United States wanted to exercise some influence in the negotiations over Syria’s future, it should have remained committed to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), which is backed by the international community. Washington’s adherence to the deal would have given it a seat at the table, even if that table was set in a manner that favored Russia, Iran, and Assad.

In repudiating the Iran nuclear deal, Trump rejected any prospect of a multilateral approach. At the same time, by launching an economic war against Iran, he has given Tehran every reason to remain steadfast on Syria. His decision to pull US troops out of Syria is thus icing on the cake for Tehran—even it means that the IS problem will intensify.

Beyond Syria, Iranian leaders must also be pleased about the increasingly difficult relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Trump Administration, which has resulted in a significant push from the international community (and from the US Senate) to put an end to the war in Yemen. Although Iran did not play a role in the recent negotiations in Sweden that produced a still tentative cease-fire in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s growing isolation works in Iran’s favor.

Indeed, President Trump’s actions demonstrate that apart from Syria, US policy toward Iran is itself strategically incoherent. The raging debate in the administration about the impact of the US pullout from Syria—which may soon result in the departure of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis—underscores the price Washington must pay for having a man in the Oval Office whose isolationist impulses, bullying instincts, and unfettered ignorance of international politics are sure to harm US interests, no matter how one defines them.

Daniel Brumberg is a Non-resident Senior Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC. To learn more about Daniel and read his publications click here.

Republished, with permission, from the Arab Center Washington DC.

Comment on this subject:

“The withdrawal of these troops will make it easier for Moscow and Tehran to advance a political solution that would ensure that President Bashar al-Assad and his allies remain in power for a long time—and this is precisely the outcome that Russia and Iran favor.”

Why on earth not? Assad has been elected, is the only likely leader for the future, Russia and other partners are already arranging to rebuild Syria, a very un-American idea, and the USA has never been invited in, is an “enemy” according to Trump, while Russia and the SAA with Iran have done the main work to destroy IS.

By: Rosemary

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