Trump signs order for US military's controversial Syria exit

Trump signs order for US military's controversial Syria exit
3 min read
24 December, 2018
The US military said on Sunday the order to withdraw American troops from Syria has been signed.
The announcement to withdraw from Syria shocked global partners [Getty]

The order to withdraw American troops from Syria has been signed, the US military said on Sunday, after President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart agreed to avoid a power vacuum in the wake of the controversial move.

"The execute order for Syria has been signed," a US military spokesperson told AFP when asked about the withdrawal order, without providing further details.

The announcement that US troops would leave the war-racked country - where they have been deployed to assist in the multinational fight against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group - shocked global partners and American politicians alike.

Unsurprisingly, Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump's momentous decision on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target US-allied Kurdish fighters who have played a major role in the war against IS but are deemed terrorists by Ankara.

On Sunday, Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone and "agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria," the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Later on that day, Trump tweeted that Erdogan had assured him that any remaining IS fighters in Syria will be eliminated.

"President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria," Trump said in a tweet around midnight Sunday, using another acronym for the jihadist group.

Repeating a pattern of admiring comments towards global strongmen, Trump added that Erdogan "is a man who can do it."

The US president concluded: "Our troops are coming home!"

But US politicians - including those from Trump’s own Republican party - and international allies fear the withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 US troops is premature and would further destabilise the already devastated region.

Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu warned a US withdrawal will open the way "for Turkey to start its operations against the Kurds, and a bloody war will begin."

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he "deeply regretted" Trump's decision, noting "an ally must be reliable."

US troops will leave under the auspices of a new Pentagon chief set to start next month, after Jim Mattis resigned from the post citing key differences, including on Syria, with the often-impulsive Trump.

Several US politicians from both parties rejected Trump's claim that IS had been defeated, and the decision also caused alarm and dismay in the US military over the prospect of suddenly abandoning Washington's Kurdish partners.

Trump's sudden decision sparked turmoil within his administration, prompting the resignation of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition, as well as Mattis.

Plans for the troop withdrawal will now be overseen by Deputy Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan, who Trump on Sunday said would replace Mattis starting January 1.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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