President Donald Trump has upended American policy in Syria, and possibly in the entire Middle East, in one stroke. His unilateral decision to withdraw American troops from the Kurdish region of northern Syria, and thus give a green light for the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish enclave, has put all American goals in Syria in grave jeopardy. These included protecting the autonomous Kurdish enclave as a quid pro quo for the Kurdish militia’s singular military contribution in liquidating Islamic State and capturing its capital Raqqa at the cost of thousands of lives. They also included preventing the regime of Bashar al-Assad from reasserting control in northern Syria (a very important US objective in Syria was to circumscribe Russia’s and Iran’s reach and influence in the country). Finally, one of the principal aims of American policy in both Syria and Iraq has been to prevent the resurgence of the IS.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that it will “fully” and “rapidly” withdraw the U.S. military presence in Syria, where approximately 2,000 U.S. troops have been stationed in the northeastern, Kurdish-controlled part of the country, near its border with Turkey. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian examines the implications of the troop withdrawal and its broader impact on the Syria conflict.
Professor Rachel Epstein’s interview with Professor Donald Abenheim of the Naval Postgraduate School and Lieutenant Colonel (General Staff) Marc-André Walther of the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Hamburg.
1. The President of the United States had some tough words for America’s NATO’s allies at the recent summit in Brussels. Is this sort of brinkmanship normal in the history of the Alliance?
On the 6th of June, after only two hours of reflection, the Austrian government ordered the withdrawal of its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights, thus ending its 39-year engagement in the area. In an official statement, the 380 UN peacekeepers were pulled out because of the “continuing deterioration of the situation in the area.”
In the months leading up to the withdrawal, UN troops had witnessed increasing spill-over from the conflict in Syria, with mortars hitting the Israeli-controlled parts of the Golan Heights. When Syrian rebels seized control of the strategically important Quneitra border crossing between Syria and Israeli-controlled territory – albeit only for a short period of time – the possibility of the IDF crossing over into Syrian territory to secure Israel’s border became plausible. This is reportedly what led Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann to call for the withdrawal of Austrian troops.
The date of the withdrawal of most of Western forces from Afghanistan is approaching but the war and the state of the war in Afghanistan continue. The US consolidates its strategic military bases in Afghanistan while it is talking about pulling out. Despite this conflicting narrative, the Western disentanglement in Afghanistan gives rises to two crucial and conjointly defined questions. First, how will Western drawdown shape the future of Afghanistan? Second, how will the major post-withdrawal power vacuum in south and Central Asia makes the geopolitical map of south and Central Asia and by consequence, the global power structure?
Both the power vacuum and global power structure gravitate largely on the outcome of the war in Afghanistan and the future of ungoverned titanic mountain ranges between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a leftover of the nineteenth-century British colonialism. History let Afghanistan in a unique geopolitical position. The turbulent developments in the last two centuries show that this country—was once described by the late Richard Nixon as the “turnstile of the fate of Asia,”—has been a transit area for the emerging powers in the region and its future has been determined by adventurous foreign interventions. This truth makes the Afghan theatre of war merely a sideshow in the larger regional and international contention that was termed by Kipling ‘the Great Game,’ in Central Asia.