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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

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Cases: 944708

Reported Deaths: 15343
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1287051987
Lake634321097
Allen53759760
Hamilton43980448
St. Joseph42010590
Elkhart33651491
Vanderburgh30486449
Tippecanoe26872250
Johnson23685417
Hendricks22354341
Porter21799347
Clark17493231
Madison17439384
Vigo16209284
Monroe14515191
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Howard13921273
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Warrick10715177
Bartholomew10589169
Floyd10471206
Wayne10020226
Grant9165204
Morgan8895160
Boone8417111
Dubois7748123
Dearborn764990
Henry7648130
Noble7435101
Marshall7384128
Cass7209117
Lawrence6999153
Shelby6616111
Jackson659186
Gibson6177107
Harrison606286
Huntington603195
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Jefferson472892
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Wells388784
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Posey361541
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Starke281464
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Orange276859
Jay256338
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Carroll244929
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Benton143516
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Martin129317
Switzerland126210
Warren115516
Union97711
Ohio80111
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1373275

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1527821560
Cuyahoga1349902327
Hamilton979751320
Montgomery674391141
Summit564421047
Lucas51165863
Butler47623655
Stark41836976
Lorain31748532
Warren30182331
Mahoning27127639
Clermont25753292
Lake24662417
Delaware22415145
Licking20587241
Fairfield20543221
Greene20436272
Trumbull19983509
Medina19884287
Clark17992328
Richland16428234
Portage16225229
Wood15771208
Allen14196256
Miami13889253
Muskingum12762152
Wayne12044238
Columbiana11800241
Tuscarawas11064269
Marion10797148
Pickaway10519129
Scioto10394127
Erie9784171
Ross9502176
Lawrence8809125
Hancock8514141
Ashtabula8376185
Geauga8196156
Belmont8180187
Jefferson7589172
Huron7476128
Union736651
Washington7245120
Athens701765
Sandusky6885134
Darke6789136
Knox6724122
Seneca6422137
Ashland5989113
Auglaize590488
Shelby5774101
Brown568571
Mercer560290
Defiance5511101
Crawford5477114
Madison546771
Highland545081
Fulton536283
Clinton529280
Logan514282
Preble5033110
Putnam4859106
Guernsey474764
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Perry456452
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Ottawa439084
Jackson429562
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Morrow389051
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Fayette378453
Adams363575
Hardin362069
Gallia349856
Henry327368
Holmes3273108
Van Wert316170
Hocking305169
Wyandot282658
Carroll264752
Paulding243543
Meigs217442
Monroe190849
Noble171140
Morgan168129
Harrison159340
Vinton139318
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