Making a Quagmire out of a Quagmire
by Omkar Ratnaparkhi
Staff Middle East Correspondent
On October 6th the Trump Administration drastically modified its policy on the U.S. Military presence in Syria. The Trump Administration allowed Turkey to take a more aggressive role in Kurdish-held territories backed by American troops, and also withdrew American troops from key locations in Kurdish-held Syria. Despite the success of the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, many foreign policy analysts believe that the United States has lost its foothold in combating the Assad Regime and preventing the spread of ISIS in the region. The United States’ longtime ally in the region, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has lost ground to Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States.
President Donald Trump gave implied approval for the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria on October 6th to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. President Erdogan immediately mobilized Turkish troops to invade Northern Syria. The initial invasion displaced over 200,000 civilians and killed 200. Kurdish troops were unable to hold their ground as the Turkish military had received a green light for invasion from President Trump. In an act of desperation, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces did the unthinkable and allied with their longtime enemy: the Assad Regime. The move not only allowed the regime’s forces to gain territory in Syria, but also allowed Russian forces to enter areas under American protection just days before in order to limit the Turkish incursion.
President Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops in Northeastern Syria in order to limit the possibility of American forces fighting Turkey a NATO ally, however, only approximately 50 of the 1000 troops were immediately withdrawn from the area. On October 11th news reports emerged of American Special Forces troops almost being wounded by Turkish artillery strikes in the city of Kobani that was near an outpost of American advisors. American special operations forces have remained close to or near various SDF bases. The U.S. Military, realizing the imminent danger of such strikes, immediately ramped up the withdrawal process. On October 13th, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced the administration’s plans to withdraw all American forces currently in Syria in order to prevent American troops from taking contact with Turkish, as well as Syrian and Russian forces trying to counteract the Turkish incursions on the border.
As American forces continued to withdraw from their respective areas of operations, a power vacuum was created that allowed President Assad’s Syrian forces to expand their territories. The power vacuum which was caused by the fact that American forces no longer stood next to their Kurdish SDF allies meant that Turkish ground troops could overrun Kurdish positions. The result of this was instead of holding ground and monitoring prisons the SDF was forced to abandon positions and fight for their lives. As of October 14th Turkish aerial bombardment of various SDF controlled prisons has allowed over 1000 of the 10000 ISIS prisoners of war to escape from prison. At this point, the Trump administration’s policies became widely scrutinized by both sides of the aisle as both Republicans and Democrats believed that abandoning the Kurdish SDF, America’s greatest ally in the region could only lead to the Islamic State gaining a possibility of resurgence. President Trump has repeatedly tweeted that he has been the President who successfully defeated ISIS, however, many Pentagon officials and members of Congress remain wary of the President’s capabilities in successfully containing the Islamic State when his policy shifts in the last three weeks have to lead to the release of thousands of ISIS POWs. The various criticisms of the President over his decision to withdraw troops from Syria by friends and foes in Washington alike lead to the President announcing the deployment of troops to replace current combat advisors in Syria rather than a full withdrawal.
On October 20th the Trump Administration announced its latest change in policy: protecting oil fields in Eastern Syria. On October 25th, Secretary of Defense Esper announced the use of armored and mechanized forces to protect oil fields. A few hundred troops in mechanized, as well as armored units, have crossed the Iraq-Syria border and began guarding the oil fields of Eastern Syria. The Trump administration has claimed that the move to protect oil fields is to deny access of the valuable resource to ISIS militants. Many are skeptical of the President’s claims due to the fact that the President has also expressed interest in the investment of American oil companies in Syria. Despite the President’s clear conflicts of interests, many foreign policy experts are quick to point out that the oil fields have been the greatest source of income for various terrorist organizations in the past. If the oil fields are not destroyed or guarded, then they could easily fall into the hands of an American adversary. Another faction vying for power of the oil fields is the Assad regime and the Russian government due to the financial power and strategic location of the fields on the Eastern border of Syria.
On October 26th members of America’s Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment conducted a raid on the compound of the founder of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The raid was a success as Baghdadi killed himself after running into an underground tunnel and detonated a suicide vest. For more information on the raid read Sebastian Guccione’s article on page 7. The raid was a success, but man skeptics remain around the world and on Capitol Hill. American adversaries have gained various territories in the region. The Assad Regime and Russia have also gained more territory in the last three weeks due to the desperation of the Kurds, and the Trump Administration has been blamed by critics for causing two American allies, the Kurds and the Turks, for fighting against each other. The 1000 troops that President Trump stated would be coming home soon will simply be replaced by another 1000 or more troops who will guard oil fields rather than assisting the Kurdish SDF in its war against the Islamic State.
Image Source: France24.com.