On Dec. 19, President Trump abruptly declared that he was withdrawing and bringing home the American troops in Syria. He announced in a video, “We have won against ISIS. Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.”
Trump originally indicated that the withdrawal would be immediate and troops would be home in a matter of weeks. But then he said it would take a significant amount of time to move all the troops and cargo that have been in the region since 2015.
Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have hemmed and hawed this plan for months. And a bombing in Manbij, Syria on Jan. 16, which left four Americans dead, and another in the Hasakey province on Jan. 21, which targeted and wounded American soldiers, has exponentially increased Congress’s doubts. And our elected officials are right to worry: Trump was dangerously wrong. ISIS is not defeated just because he says so.
Manbij is a town in northern Syria controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). ISIS claimed the attack, clearly showing that the U.S. has not “won against ISIS,” as Trump gleefully announced in December.
Then on Jan. 21, the Islamic State struck again with a suicide bomber who drove a car rigged with explosives into a convoy of U.S. soldiers and local fighters in the Hasakeh province. There were no U.S. casualties, but according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there were five SDF fighters killed.
It seems that ISIS is trying to throw a few more punches before their U.S. enemies leave, perhaps to show Trump that they are not defeated, and no matter how much territory they lose — which is a significant amount due to the U.S. alliance with the Kurds — they have no plans of going away, unlike the American troops. ISIS has once again reverted to guerilla warfare, waking up its sleeper cells.
And though the two bombings targeting Americans sent this message to many in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, Trump didn’t catch it.
The president still wants to pull U.S. troops out. And even worse, he wants to hand over the clean-up to Turkey. Trump said he believes Turkey will keep fighting ISIS and finish its business in Syria now that the U.S. has done its part. But this is a terrifying prospect for the Kurdish fighters whom the U.S. has been protecting and working with for years.
Turkey hates the Kurds. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey, sees the Kurds in Syria as terrorists connected to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. In December, Erdoğan unashamedly announced that Turkey would carry out attacks against the U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria. And then he blamed the U.S. for defending its Kurdish allies.
“It is clear that the purpose of U.S. observation points in Syria is not to protect our country from terrorists, but protect terrorists from Turkey,” Erdoğan said.
And this is the man whom Trump wants to entrust the fight against ISIS.
Trump’s unwillingness to listen to Congress and his closest advisers is discouraging. Not only did he falsely claim that ISIS is defeated, but his Syrian withdrawal threatens an important alliance that has worked in the U.S.’s favor for years.
With ISIS still lurking and Turkey’s aggression on display, this is not the right time to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. But unfortunately, Trump’s hastiness may be irreversible, leaving Syria open to Turkey, while the threat of ISIS continues.
Abby Liebing is a junior studying history