After the US withdrawal, who's left to defeat Daesh?

Published 30.12.2018 22:39
Updated 31.12.2018 08:00

The Washington establishment responded to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to end the American military presence in Syria with two questions.

The first question was related to ensuring Israel's national security after the U.S.' withdrawal from Syria. As a matter of fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the first leaders to react to Trump's surprise announcement.

"We will continue to act against Iran's attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria," he commented. "To the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there." Over the following days, Israel carried out a series of airstrikes against targets near Damascus. It also conducted military operations at the Lebanese border.

Apparently, that issue came up in Trump's phone call with Netanyahu as well. The Israeli prime minister unsuccessfully attempted to talk with the U.S. president about the withdrawal from Syria, according to several media outlets. Around the same time, Netanyahu took a jab at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in what Turkish officials described as "an attempt to escalate tensions with Turkey and force Trump to reconsider his decision." That didn't go as planned either.

Recalling that the United States spends $4.5 billion per year to beef up Israel's security, Trump remarked that Tel Aviv was perfectly capable of defending itself against outside threats. To be clear, the Trump administration's move to withdraw from Syria doesn't stop it from maintaining a large military footprint in the eastern Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and countries around the Middle East. In other words, there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu's nightmare scenario will actually play out.

The other hotly debated issue was the future of the fight against Daesh terrorists. President Trump's critics are confident that Washington's decision to pull out of Syria will undermine counter-Daesh operations on the ground. That claim, however, could not be farther from the truth. Let us recall that armed Daesh terrorists were granted safe passage out of Raqqa after a devastating military campaign by the coalition. It became clear days later that the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), had struck a secret deal with Daesh – while it paid lip service to the fight against Daesh to keep receiving U.S. financial and military support.

An estimated 1,500 Daesh terrorists remain active in Syria today, yet the YPG militants, whom some U.S. officials considered their partners in the fight against Daesh, have been notably unsuccessful against that group in recent months. As a matter of fact, Daesh has been fighting back: Over the past week alone, Daesh militants carried out fatal attacks in Deir el-Zour, Raqqa, Hasakah, Shaddadah and Busayrah, killing 19 PKK fighters and leaving another 11 terrorists injured. Despite U.S. air cover, YPG terrorists have been ineffective against Daesh. To make matters worse, the local authorities in Raqqa haven't taken necessary measures to prevent Daesh from making a comeback.

The situation in Jarablus, which Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) liberated from Daesh in 2016, is completely different. Not only was that mission accomplished without civilian casualties, but the quick offensive was followed by peace and quiet in the area. Since then, Daesh hasn't been able to maintain a presence in Jarablus.

President Trump has been unmistakably impressed by that success story. After announcing his decision to pull out of Syria, the U.S. president tweeted that President Erdoğan "has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of Daesh in Syria." According to Turkish sources, Washington wants Ankara to prioritize military operations against Daesh. Yet the Turkish military has the necessary experience and capabilities to fight Daesh and the PKK/YPG simultaneously.

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