On Wednesday, Dec. 19, President Donald Trump announced that he'd be removing U.S. troops from Syria. But many people are taking issue with both the president's decision and his underlying reasoning for doing so. So why is Trump pulling troops out of Syria?
The president announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops via a video statement sent out on his personal Twitter account on Wednesday evening. Per that statement, his reason for doing so is simple: He believes the fight is over. "We have won against ISIS," he says in the video. "We've been them badly, and we've taken back the land, and now it's time for our troops to come back home." According to The New York Times, the withdrawal will affect 2,000 troops stationed there and will go into effect within 30 days. Per the Associated Press, U.S. forces began deploying to the country in late 2015; the move followed U.S. airstrikes against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad after the Syrian leader was accused of carrying out a chemical attack on civilians earlier that year. Assad has denied the accusations and called them a justification for attacks.
But Trump's claims aren't accurate, many are saying. Per Reuters, France has pushed back on the president's claim, saying that Islamic State militants in the country have not, in fact, been defeated, and as such will maintain a military presence in the Middle Eastern country as it coordinates the terms of the United States' withdrawal from the region.
"[ISIS] is not scratched from the map, nor its roots elsewhere," tweeted French Minister of Defense Florence Parly on Thursday, via a translation. She noted that while the organization, which she referred to by an alternate name, had been weakened it was not vanquished. "It is necessary to defeat militarily the last pockets of this terrorist organization."
In fact, as The Times reported on Dec. 9, not even two weeks ago, the estimated size of the Islamic State forces still present in Syria is about 20,000 or 30,000 — approximately what it was at its peak in 2014, per CIA estimates.
Beyond factual discrepancies, criticism is running high about the decision itself. Among them are concerns that pulling troops from the region will undercut the efforts of U.S. allies in the region, such as France and the Kurdish fighters, and that the quick and unexpected nature of the withdrawal will create chaos. It also adds to Trump's now global notoriety for pulling the U.S. out of key international alliances, including trade agreements and multilateral nuclear deals.
The Times editorial board also blasted the move. In an opinion piece published Thursday, the paper called it an "abrupt and dangerous decision, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale." The decision also flies in the face of Trump's own national security adviser John Bolton as well as James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy to Syria, who have made clear that they didn't intend to leave Syria until a political solution had been reached, concerns about Iranian forces in the region had been addressed, and ISIS was in fact defeated.
Even key Trump allies in the GOP pushed back on the president's decision. Sen. Marco Rubio on Twitter called it a "major blunder" that would "haunt" U.S. officials if not reversed.
In a speech Wednesday night on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Trump cheerleader, also bucked the president. He called the president's claim that fighters had been defeated "fake news" and added that the withdrawal was "a stain on the honor" of the country.
Even Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends excoriated the decision as a "totally irresponsible" move that blindsided his own administration.
Responding to his critics, Trump on Thursday defended his decision via Twitter. "Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years," he tweeted. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on Trump's decision going against his own administration, the criticism against it, as well as on the claim that there were no longer a militant presence in the region, but did not receive a response as of publication.
The president also wasted no time citing his supporters, tweeting out quotes of praise from Fox News' Laura Ingraham and Sen. Rand Paul. But perhaps the most noteworthy of Trump's proponent's on this point is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in a statement on Thursday apparently applauded it as "the right decision," per The Times. Russia is also a key player in the Syrian conflict, and the removal of a U.S. presence will likely give Russia the opportunity to expand its influence.
As for how this move will impact the conflict in the region, it's unclear at this moment what the immediate — and lasting — effects of Trump's decision will be. But it's apparent that this has has sent off alarm bells in many corners of the country and the globe.