U.S. Withdrawal from Syria
On January 18, 2019, the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. hosted an event titled “U.S. Withdrawal from Syria.” The event discussed the decision by President Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and the implications of the withdrawal. The panelists included Hassan Hassan, Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy; General Mark Kimmitt, Defense Consultant at MTK Defense Consultants; and Andrew Tabler, Martin J. Gross Fellow for the Geduld Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. moderated the event.
General Mark Kimmitt argued that while ISIS remains a threat, it is not an existential threat to the U.S. anymore, thus the initial reasoning for the U.S. to be in Syria no longer exists. Furthermore, he addressed that legitimate concerns of Turkey regarding the YPG. He noted that the U.S. relationship with them was transactional and tactical and alluded that the transaction is no longer needed. He questioned why the U.S. would remain if there is an increased chance of confrontation with Turkey. General Kimmitt argued that President Trump’s tweet makes sense if the reason the U.S. was in Syria was to defeat the existential threat of ISIS is still honored.
Hassan Hassan explained his continued concerns for ISIS, but highlighted the concern is for the sympathizers more so than the remaining fighters. He opined that Syria will be one of those conflicts that returns to violence in the future, however was unsure of the timeline. He contended the biggest concern in Syria is not the extremist groups, but the unraveling once more of the conflict. He argued that the YPG must leave Manbij which was historically, and still is today, a predominantly Arab region. However, he stated that the exodus must be peaceful and not through violence. Hassan noted that the U.S. should not withdraw as it could create more problematic situations that would pull the U.S. back in.
Andrew Tabler explained that the Syrian conflict is enormously complex. He commented that while Assad has regained control of approximately 60 percent of the territory in Syria, he has not done so with his traditional army. The only reason he was capable of regaining territory was through Russian and Iranian forces. He mentioned that both Turkey and Israel do not like the situation in Syria due to existential threats to their states, the YPG and Iran, respectively. He argued that the mission to defeat ISIS and keep it down became two different policies, the latter of which raised alarms for Turkey. He opined the withdrawal could squeeze Turkey’s operations if the Assad Regime, Russia, and Iran gain from the U.S. leaving.