A US military convoy is seen on the main road in Raqqa, Syria July 31, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)
WASHINGTON – Keen to withdraw US troops from the Syrian battlefield, President Donald Trump has asked Arab nations led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to replace them with their own – a move that could work against the regrowth of terrorist organizations there, but also risk direct conflict between Arab and Persian armies.
The policy is being spearheaded by John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, his CIA director and choice for secretary of state, according to CNN. Bolton has been in contact with Egypt’s intelligence chief on the matter.
Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates would also be expected to take part.
“We are in discussions with the US and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said on Tuesday, at a press conference in Riyadh with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Mideast analysts pounced on the idea as ill-conceived, on social media: Egypt can barely contain terrorists in its backyard, Sinai, and Saudi Arabia has already diverted military resources from Syria to its fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. And the prospect of direct military conflict between Arab and Iranian forces – much more likely than between US and Iranian forces – increases the chances of a dangerous regional escalation.
The Trump administration is asking for the troop contributions in addition to financial contributions in the billions of dollars to rebuild northern Syria, devastated by Islamic State forces that occupied the land for three years until a US-led coalition took it back.
US, British and French forces pound Syria with air strikes early on Saturday in response to a poison gas attack, April 14, 2018(Reuters)
But internally, Trump’s team is in disagreement over the future US role there. Leadership on the anti- ISIS coalition says that the mission is not yet complete. And the majority of his National Security Council, including his secretary of defense, James Mattis, warned against a hasty withdrawal of US troops from the area that would provide a vacuum for extremists – and for Iran’s forces – to move in.
But Trump has said for weeks that the cost to US taxpayers of continuous military operations in the “troubled place” that is the Middle East has run too high.
“It’s very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us,” Trump said earlier this month.
“We’re going to be making a decision on what we do in the very near future.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern with Trump’s withdrawal plan, over its implications for the Iranian threat to the Jewish state.
“I want to get out – I want to bring our troops back home,” Trump said. “I want to rebuild our nation.”