Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

US allies in dismay at Trump's Syria pull-out

  • Donald Trump: 'Does the USA want to be the policeman of the Middle East?' (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

America's Western allies have voiced dismay at US leader Donald Trump's sudden idea to pull out of Syria.

The move could lead to a resurgence in Islamist terrorism, massacres of Kurdish people, a fresh surge of refugees to Europe, and strategic gains for Russia.

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  • James Mattis (c) at a meeting in the Nato HQ in Brussels (Photo: nato.int)

But it was the "correct" thing to do, Russia's leader Vladimir Putin said.

France and Germany spoke out against Trump's move on Thursday (20 December).

"The abrupt decision of the USA to withdraw their troops from Syria is surprising not only to us," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said.

"There is a risk that this decision will harm the fight against IS and endanger the achievements achieved," he added, referring to Islamic State (IS), an Islamist group based in Syria which orchestrated several terrorist attacks in EU states in the past few years.

IS had lost 90 percent of its territory and turned to guerrilla tactics in Syria, but still posed a threat, the French defence minister, Florence Parly noted.

"Islamic State has not been wiped from the map, nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organisation must be defeated militarily," she said.

"The protection of the populations of north-eastern Syria and the stability of this zone must be taken into account by the United States to avoid any new humanitarian drama," the French foreign ministry added.

There is a "risk that IS will withdraw to the mountains and reorganise", Anders Samuelsen, the foreign minster of Denmark, also said on Danish radio on Friday .

"Coordination between European countries is important to add pressure on the US to reconsider the decision [to pull out]," he added.

"Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat [IS] pose," the British foreign office said earlier on Wednesday.

France, Germany, and the UK, are America's main partners in the Nato military alliance.

Together with Denmark, they are also its main allies in the so-called Global Coalition against IS in Syria.

French and British special forces have fought alongside the 2,000 or so US troops on the ground in the north-east of the country.

French, British, and Danish jets have also contributed to US-led air strikes, while Germany has provided logistical and reconnaissance support for the campaign.

Kurdish fears

The risk of an IS resurgence is especially frightening for France and Germany - the main targets of its overseas attacks.

But the US pull-out from a part of Syria under Kurdish control also posed other threats for Europe.

Turkey reacted to Trump's news by saying that it would attack Kurdish forces in the region, as part of its long-term campaign to stop the creation of a Kurdish state and to wipe out Kurdish separatism at home.

The Kurdish militias would be "buried in their ditches", Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday.

A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustafa Bali, said it might react to a Turkish strike by releasing the more than 1,000 IS fighters it had in custody.

A Turkish assault could create "thousands upon thousands" of new refugees, Mehmet Tanriverdi, a spokesman for the Kurdish Community in Germany, an advocacy group, added.

"If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the [Syrian] regime our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 - millions of refugees, there will be massacres," Arin Sheikhmos, a Kurdish commentator, added.

The US pull-out could also embolden the Syrian regime and its main allies Iran and Russia to attack the last rebel stronghold in Syria's Idlib province, prompting a larger exodus to Europe.

Russia's gain

But even if the foretold massacres did not take place, it would leave Russia as the main foreign power in Syria, fulfilling Putin's objective to gain a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean Sea region.

Putin praised Trump's move in a TV press conference on Thursday, while voicing scepticism it would actually take place.

"We don't see any signs yet of the withdrawal of US troops," he said.

"How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they're pulling out," he added.

But Trump redoubled on his Syria announcement the same day in a series of fresh Tweets.

"Does the USA want to be the policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others?", he said.

'Respect'

His treatment of the Kurds as well as of America's oldest allies on the world stage, the European powers, prompted the US defence chief, James Mattis, to tender his resignation the same day.

Mattis said in an open letter that allied states ought to be treated "with respect", while Trump ought to be more "clear-eyed" about "malign actors and strategic competitors", alluding to Russia.

His resignation "makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries," Republican senator Marco Rubio said.

"This is scary ... Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration," Democratic senator Mark Warner added.

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