Fight against ISIS in Syria is far from over

President Trump plans to remove troops from Syria, saying that the fight against ISIS is over, but the sudden withdrawal could affect how much influence other countries and groups have in the region. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 9:57 PM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 10:11 PM

It was set to be the most discreet yet potent measure of US influence in the Middle East.

Over 2,000 American special forces in the north of Syria, fighting the fight against ISIS, but also providing a significant bang for their buck.

But to widespread surprise, US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that the US intends to rapidly withdraw from Syria.

The troops out there had managed three things to date:

First, they fought ISIS alongside the Syrian Kurds who run that area of north Syria. The fight was edging towards its end, but was also at a key stage of mopping up potent leadership and denying them the chance to regroup.

They could have remained there indefinitely, chasing ISIS militants in the desert. But for now, their goals were palpable and persistent. ISIS has been regrouping and the fight was not done.

As Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute pointed out, ISIS issued a claim of responsibility for an attack in Raqqa just ten minutes before Trump's announcement.

Second, they kept the Syrian Kurds slightly in check. This may sound odd, given they are arming and assisting a group of Kurdish fighters that Turkey, the US's NATO ally to the north, considers terrorists. But the truth is that so long as the Americans remained there, the chance of the Syrian Kurds, known when working with their Arab partners as the SDF, attacking Turkey was limited.

Third is the most important part of the US presence, which may be missed the most by Washington's allies. They provided a very forceful and blatant block to Iranian and Russian influence in the present and future Syria.

Iran has been accused of using that stretch of flat, open Syria to send weapons to its partners Hezbollah in Lebanon. That threatens Israel. Iran calls the accusations of their poor behavior in the region "hysterical statements" invented by people wanting to paint Iran as "an imaginary enemy."

Russia was also seeking to improve its and the Syrian regime's standing in the area. The Americans were not messing around: on one February night they may have killed dozens of Russian mercenaries trying to assist Assad's forces in retaking an oil field. These Americans were effective and heavily armed.

And their bases were not temporary structures. The runways were paved, the defenses serious. Nobody expected to be going anywhere.

Which leads us to this question: why, given the major gains of the presence and its relatively minor numbers, did Trump, the Commander in Chief, do this?

The timing is curious. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for days been threatening to send in his troops to attack and push back the Syrian Kurds allied with the US Special Forces. He sees them as a threat -- explicitly calls them terrorists -- and is under domestic pressure to act tough.

The one thing that has always held him back was the risk that US troops might get caught up in the onslaught.

If they are not there, that risk evaporates. Turkey is a NATO ally and the US's embrace of the Kurds in the ISIS fight has irritated Ankara and led them to get closer to Moscow. This move may reverse that.

Another beneficiary will be Vladimir Putin. Without the US in the ring, Russia is the main military force in the post-war Syria. However you divine it, Trump seems to have few qualms about doing things that will please Putin. Finally, this sudden move repeats something the US has a history of: abandoning the Kurds in the Middle East.

They did so after the first Gulf War, and many cynical Kurds knew it was only a matter of time before they pulled back here, in northern Syria, leaving them to face the Turkish music.

The issue here is that this departure is unexpected, startling and apparently counter to several major US policy interests. Which will leave many in the US and elsewhere wondering why Trump has decided to do this now.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 157713

Reported Deaths: 4092
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion25392789
Lake13805355
St. Joseph9277163
Elkhart8890135
Allen8278230
Hamilton6215113
Vanderburgh588261
Tippecanoe375915
Hendricks3302133
Monroe326638
Porter322049
Johnson3151129
Delaware297074
Clark296762
Vigo264840
Madison240595
LaPorte226658
Cass225522
Warrick195265
Kosciusko187826
Floyd180167
Howard164066
Bartholomew143358
Marshall140026
Dubois139626
Wayne132130
Henry128430
Grant127839
Boone124550
Hancock119944
Noble117434
Jackson114416
Dearborn98028
Morgan94840
Lawrence90837
Daviess89334
Gibson88612
Clinton86716
Shelby83531
LaGrange81015
Knox77410
Harrison77324
Putnam73716
Posey7236
DeKalb72011
Fayette69018
Steuben6338
Miami6305
Jasper6175
White59215
Montgomery59022
Greene55337
Scott52413
Decatur50739
Adams5027
Whitley4636
Clay4537
Ripley4538
Sullivan44414
Wells43511
Wabash4219
Starke4157
Orange40925
Huntington4015
Spencer3956
Washington3783
Franklin37625
Jennings36913
Fulton3653
Randolph3659
Jefferson3435
Pike33518
Carroll32913
Perry32614
Jay3116
Fountain3073
Tipton27823
Vermillion2531
Parke2374
Newton23011
Blackford2193
Rush2184
Owen2071
Martin2000
Crawford1591
Pulaski1562
Brown1433
Ohio1327
Benton1120
Union1110
Switzerland960
Warren841
Unassigned0234

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 192948

Reported Deaths: 5184
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin31703640
Cuyahoga19906684
Hamilton16878344
Montgomery10546189
Butler8401130
Lucas8364373
Summit6780265
Warren428466
Stark3853182
Mahoning3739287
Marion341250
Pickaway302446
Delaware290627
Lorain275489
Fairfield268657
Licking262366
Clark253057
Wood252981
Clermont251238
Greene234542
Trumbull2290134
Allen218373
Columbiana213387
Miami202858
Lake196659
Medina188942
Portage165468
Mercer154728
Wayne144669
Ross141537
Richland135124
Tuscarawas130825
Athens12352
Erie116953
Darke115551
Hancock106626
Madison106315
Auglaize102316
Putnam101627
Lawrence94525
Shelby91714
Muskingum9044
Scioto8719
Geauga86950
Belmont78927
Union7703
Ashtabula73548
Sandusky71722
Huron71614
Preble63518
Holmes63310
Seneca60714
Ottawa58930
Fulton54513
Henry48817
Jefferson4774
Clinton47213
Jackson4728
Crawford4688
Defiance46613
Fayette4528
Highland4446
Logan4353
Ashland4109
Champaign4053
Knox39416
Brown3883
Perry37311
Morrow3562
Washington35524
Hardin34813
Williams3464
Guernsey3298
Coshocton32412
Pike3120
Wyandot29813
Gallia29213
Van Wert2685
Carroll2157
Adams2126
Meigs21012
Paulding2072
Hocking1999
Monroe16318
Noble1480
Vinton1043
Harrison843
Morgan800
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 36°
Angola
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 30°
Huntington
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 36°
Decatur
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 36°
Van Wert
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 36°
Cooler Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events