The Kurdish-led coalition that has prosecuted much of the ground campaign against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria has warned that President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country will create a power vacuum, allowing the extremist group to regroup.
A statement issued Thursday by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said the retreat of American troops would leave the coalition surrounded by hostile parties with much reduced support, the BBC reported.
The SDF said Trump’s retreat from northern Syria—where around 2,000 have been stationed—would have “dangerous implications” for regional stability and “create a political and military vacuum… leaving its people between the claws of hostile parties.”
On Wednesday, the White House confirmed the withdrawal of American forces from Syria. Trump justified the decision by incorrectly claiming that ISIS had been defeated, negating the continued presence of U.S. troops in the region.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president wrote. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the decision and said the U.S. will now “transition to the next phase of this campaign.” She told reporters that the U.S. remains “ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary.”
The SDF is an alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, and has been considered the most reliable and effective western partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Most recently, SDF troops led bloody operations to retake the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa and the group’s last major urban holdouts in the eastern Deir ez-Zor governorate along the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) form the main and most potent element of the SDF. YPG troops have been fighting against a Turkish incursion into northwestern Syria—known as Operation Olive Branch—which aims to crush the Kurdish enclaves established during the civil war.
Turkey has been fighting a domestic Kurdish insurgency since the 1970s and considers Kurdish militias across the border terrorist organizations. Washington’s diplomatic, financial and military support of the SDF—and by extension the YPG—has strained ties between the U.S. and Turkey.
Having ousted Kurdish fighters from the northwest, Ankara is soon expected to launch an operation against the SDF to sweep the Kurds out of northern Syria along the length of the Turkish border. With no U.S. troops remaining in the area, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s job will be far safer and easier.
Newsweek confirmed Wednesday that Trump made the decision to withdraw from Syria around a week ago. The president informed his military officials following a call with Erdogan regarding an arms deal and a potential offensive against U.S. allies.