In the wake of US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would pull troops out of Syria, some international allies have reacted with shock and dismay, while Russia and Turkey seemed to welcome a decision that could allow them to advance their own plans in Syria.
Trump’s decision to pull out completely was confirmed by US officials and is expected to take place in the coming months.
There are currently about 2,000 US troops in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting ISIL.
Trump’s declaration that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group had been “defeated” was not endorsed by allies who have fought alongside the US in Syria.
“Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose. Even without territory, Daesh (ISIL) will remain a threat,” the UK’s Foreign Office said in a statement on Wednesday.
“As the United States has made clear, these developments in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We will continue to work with members of the Coalition on achieving this.”
British junior defence minister, Tobias Ellwood was more blunt, retweeting a message from Trump that the group had been defeated in Syria with the words: “I strongly disagree.”
“It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.”
Speaking on Thursday, France’s defence minister said that ISIL had been weakened but not defeated.
“Islamic State (ISIL) has been weakened more than ever,” Florence Parly said on Twitter. “But Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor has its roots. It is necessary that the last pockets of this terrorist organisation be definitively defeated militarily.”
France’s European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said that French forces would remain in Syria “for now”.
“It’s true that the coalition has made significant progress in Syria, but this fight continues, and we will continue it,” she told CNews television.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains concerned about Iranian efforts in the area, reacted in non-committal fashion after talking with Trump by telephone.
“This is, of course, an American decision,” he said, adding that no matter what, “we will safeguard the security of Israel and protect ourselves from this arena”.
For the US’s NATO ally Turkey, however, the news is likely to be welcome.
Washington-Ankara relations have long been strained by differences over Syria, where the US has backed the Syrian Kurdish YPG group in the fight against ISIL.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In the wake of Trump’s declaration, Turkey escalated its rhetoric against the Kurds
According to the Turkish state news agency Anadolu, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters on Thursday that Turkey was preparing “intensely” for a new military operation in parts northeast Syria, where US forces are
“Right now it is being said that some ditches, tunnels were dug in Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates, he said. “They can dig tunnels or ditches if they want, they can go underground if they want, when the time and place comes they will be buried in the ditches they dug. No one should doubt this.”
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Turkish capital Ankara, said the Kurdish forces have been left in a difficult position.
“Syria’s Kurds, or in particular the YPG armed group, are vulnerable, they are left abandoned really,” she said. “The YPG, the SDF, were in talks with the Syrian government earlier this year…trying to find some sort of arrangement. But the US intervened and pressured the Kurds to pull out of those negotiations, and now the US is pulling out its troops. So the Kurds are in a difficult position.
“What is next? This decision by US President Donald Trump gives Turkey the green light to operate in the northeast of Syria but many would argue a US green light is not enough, you need a green light from the Russian government as well. So we are going to see talks between Turkey, Russia, Iran on what is going to happen in this enclave. Will the area be divided into spheres of influence?
“One thing is certain. What Turkey wants is the YPG to move away from the border. So the biggest question is, who will take control of this border region. Will it be the Syrian government, or will it be Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.”
Russia, which backs the Syrian government, has welcomed Trump’s decision.
The Russian news agency TASS reported the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday that the decision creates prospects for a political settlement in Syria.
TASS also cited the ministry as saying that an initiative to form a Syrian constitutional committee had a bright future with the US troop withdrawal.