Early on the 19th of December (Washington time), multiple American media outlets began reporting that the Pentagon is embarking on a rapid withdrawal of US troops from Syria. This was later confirmed by the Pentagon in a public statement. As the overwhelming number of the US troops that are in Syria are stationed in the north-east of the country, it is obvious that Turkey’s declaration that an anti-YPG/PKK operation will shortly commence in north-eastern Syria was the self-evident proximate cause for the forthcoming US withdrawal.
US President Donald Trump followed the breaking news by offering a single cryptic Tweet on the subject, stating:
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency”.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Trump remained on Twitter but merely to deal with domestic issues involving the liquidation of the Trump foundation.
Notably, in his Tweet, Trump acknowledged that which Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been saying with increased frequency, namely that as Daesh (ISIS) has been defeated in Syria, there is no need for the US to maintain its presence in the region. The important factor for Turkey is that the US had allied with the anti-Turkish (and anti-Arab) YPG/PKK terror organisation to allegedly fight Daesh, even though there is little evidence that the YPG/PKK did anything other than allow the US air force to bomb areas formerly controlled by Daesh before pretending they did the heavy lifting.
Therefore, as Turkey has remained firm that it will neutralise YPG/PKK terrorists east of the River Euphrates in Syria with or without US cooperation, it now seems clear Trump blinked first and has decided to withdraw US troops following on from his recent phone conversation with the Turkish President, thus paving the way for Turkey to neutralise the YPG/PKK and oversee a political transition to peace in the region as part of its obligations as a member of the Astana trio which also includes Russia and Iran.
While Trump naturally prefers to frame such a potential US withdrawal in terms of claiming a victory against Daesh while saving money in the Middle East (as opposed to the spendthrift tendencies of his two predecessors), the fact of the matter is that the proximate timing of the announcement of a US withdrawal along with Trump’s Tweet indicates that Washington has at long last decided to preserve the integrity of NATO by not standing in the way of a Turkish anti-terror operation that Ankara takes very seriously.
The US still has many areas of disagreement with Turkey that remain largely unchanged even if the US pulls out of north-eastern Syria. But assuming the announced withdrawal does in fact take place as scheduled, it means that Donald Trump has lost an important battle for regional influence to Turkey’s President Erdoğan.