When will we get out of Syria? Not any time soon, at least according to a response from Donald Trump to members of Congress who objected to his earlier declaration of victory and total withdrawal. NBC News reproduces the signed note from Trump to the letter from a bipartisan group of senators who urged the president to keep “a small American stabilizing force in Syria.”
Trump responded, “I agree 100%,” although he highlighted a different paragraph:
Two months after declaring all U.S. troops are leaving Syria, President Donald Trump wrote to members of Congress that he now agrees “100%” with keeping a military presence in Syria. …
In a copy of the letter obtained by NBC News, Trump highlighted a paragraph in the letter about the U.S. goals in Syria, which said, “Like you, we seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns, that Iran is not emboldened, and that we consolidate our gains and ensure the best outcome in Geneva for American interests.”
“I agree 100%. ALL is being done,” President Trump responded, writing directly on the letter and signing it.
On the same day as the letter from the bipartisan group was dated, Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the Trump administration had decided to keep a small contingent in Syria after all. Sanders kept the numbers somewhat ambiguous, as well as the expected end date of the mission. That announcement came shortly after the White House got rebuked by European allies after they were asked to stick around as we left, which got the answer that everyone else but Trump apparently expected.
The Kurds in Taqba have now been told that the US won’t leave soon:
The administration of Tabqa has received assurances that the US would maintain a presence in northeastern Syria, where the town and its strategic dam are located, an official stated on Tuesday.
Tabqa is both the name of the town and the strategic Tabqa Dam, the largest in the country, which was captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in May 2017.
Sheikh Hamad al-Faraj, co-chairman of Tabqa’s legislative council, speaking to Kurdistan 24, claimed the Tabqa administration had met with “US officials” who “assured us that they would stay.”
“So that’s a good sign,” al-Faraj said. “After we eradicate ISIS, we need to worry about internal security, we need a lot of training and help.”
The Saudi royal family still is talking about the potential for disaster in a US withdrawal. Prince Turki al-Faisal warned today that a hasty exit would open up vast opportunities for Iran to make trouble:
When asked about the imminent withdrawal of troops, Prince Turki responded that it could “create a vacuum that would be filled by Iranian troops and the Iranian militias.” …
“It’s a pity because they withdraw from that area and the next day the Iranians will be moving in. So how they can, on one hand, proclaim publicly that they want to want to get Iran out of Syria and, on the other hand, create a vacuum that would be filled by Iranian troops and the Iranian militias,” Prince Turki said as part of a wider interview with Al Arabiya English.
Referring to talks regarding Arab governments pushing for Syria to expel Iranian influence, Prince Turki said that governments should not trust the Assad regime to “give up the Iranian connection that he has.”
“Assad did not turn to his people in order to improve the livelihood and to meet their aspirations and their longing for a better life. On the contrary, he persecuted them, he killed them, he dislocated them, he threw them out of Syria and he turned to Iran in order to do that,” he told Al Arabiya English.
With Trump’s literal signature on this policy, the prior calculations appear to remain in place. For how long … is anyone’s guess.