Following U.S. president Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. forces from the northeast of Syria on Oct. 7, Turkey has continued its attacks into Syria in order to get rid of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stationed there.
The U.S. had around 1,000 troops and advisers stationed in Syria, which prevented Turkey from launching an assault against the SDF, so as not to damage relations with the U.S. With the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Turkey has been attacking SDF forces in the region because Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes it to be a terrorist organization and has stated Turkey would stop its military operation once the SDF forces lay down their weapons and leave Turkish designated safe zones at the border.
The reason that Trump pulled U.S. forces out of northern Syria appears to be because of a phone call between the Turkish and U.S. presidents, wherein Erdogan said he would be attacking Syria. The U.S. Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, said the U.S. wanted to avoid loosing U.S. troops in the coming attack and “We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation.”
While the U.S. has not completely pulled troops out of Syria, there are still less than 150 U.S. troops stationed at the Tanf garrison at the border between Syria and Jordan. In an attempt to halt some of the Turkish invasion into Syria, the U.S. is considering levying additional economic sanctions against Turkey.
Trump’s decision to pull troops out of parts of Syria has prompted a response from the U.S. Congress, which has, in a rare bipartisan vote, condemned the decision by Trump to remove U.S. troops from Syria. The vote was 354 to 60 with Republicans siding with Democrats in the largest majority since Trump took office. While the measure, which chides the president for helping U.S. advisories like Russia and Iran, has enraged Trump, it does not directly affect U.S. troops, nor does it change Trump’s decision to remove troops from northeast Syria.
For five years, the U.S. has been helping SDF forces push back against ISIS in Syria, and this year it seemed that ISIS in Syria had been defeated. In March, the SDF, backed by the U.S., France and Britain, were able to capture the final ISIS stronghold of Baghouz in eastern Syria, which seemed to spell defeat of an ISIS caliphate in the region. Months later, that victory may be in jeopardy as thousands of ISIS fighters kept in prison by the SDF may be released due to the fighting with Turkey.