U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a news conference following Tuesday's midterm congressional elections at the White House in Washington, US, November 7, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
Is it America’s responsibility to police the Middle East, US President Donald Trump asked as he defended his decision to begin pulling US troops out of Syria early Thursday morning.
“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight,” he asked.
“Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild,” Trump said.
“Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us,: Trump said.
“I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!,” he said.
Trump's announcement on Wednesday upended a central pillar of American policy in the Middle East and stunned U.S. lawmakers and allies, who challenged the president's claim of victory.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, are in the final stages of a campaign to recapture areas seized by Islamic State militants.
But they face the threat of a military incursion by Turkey, which considers the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearhead the force to be a terrorist group, and possible advances by Syrian forces - backed by Russia and Iran - committed to restoring President Bashar al-Assad's control over the whole country.
After three years of fighting alongside U.S. forces, the SDF said the battle against Islamic State had reached a decisive phase that required more support, not a precipitate U.S. withdrawal.
Western allies including France, Britain and Germany also described Trump's assertion of victory as premature.
Officials said France will keep its troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State militants have not been wiped out and pose a threat to French interests.
"For now, of course we are staying in Syria because the fight against Islamic State is essential," Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said.
France has about 1,100 troops in Iraq and Syria providing logistics, training and heavy artillery support as well as fighter jets. In Syria it has dozens of special forces, military advisers and some foreign office personnel.
A British junior defense minister said on Wednesday he strongly disagreed with Trump. "(Islamic State) has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive," Tobias Ellwood said in a tweet.
Neighboring Turkey, which has threatened an imminent military incursion targeting the U.S.-allied Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria, has not commented directly on Trump's decision, although an end to the U.S.-Kurdish partnership will be welcomed in Ankara.
Kurdish militants east of the Euphrates in Syria "will be buried in their ditches when the time comes", state-owned Anadolu news agency reported Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying.
Amos Yadlin, Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) wrote on Twitter, that the US withdrawal was most likely part of a “drive to decrease US presence and casualties, the US people’s fatigue from the nation’s long wars, but perhaps mainly what looks like a “grand deal” with Turkey.”
“Trump’s decision embolden its rivals which are committed to the region on the long term: Russia, Iran, Assad and ISIS.
“Such abrupt US turns, seen by many as betraying its Kurdish partners in the war on ISIS, undermines the US’ reputation and credibility,” Yadlin wrote on twitter.Reuters contributed to this report.
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