Withdrawal of US Forces from Syria - II

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January 11, 2019

Click here for Part - I.

What is the issue?

  • US national security adviser John Bolton recently outlined conditions for a U.S. troop departure from Syria.
  • This has given way to the recent tussle between US and Turkey.

What is the dispute?

  • The US national security adviser said the troops would leave the war-torn country after the Islamic State is beaten.
  • He also said Kurds, U.S. allies in the fight against the IS, should be protected.
  • This contradicts with Trump’s insistence that the withdrawal would be immediate and without any pre-conditions.
  • Turkish President Erdogan refused to John Bolton’s suggestions for an orderly exit and the plan to protect the Syrian Kurds.
  • Turkey considers the Syrian Democratic Forces, the official military wing of Syrian Kurdistan, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
  • The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is, indeed, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S.
  • Turkey sees an autonomous, militarily powerful Kurdistan on the Syrian side of the border as a threat to its territorial integrity.
  • But Turkey was limited by U.S. presence in the Kurdish-populated region in pursuing its own military options.
  • It is highly likely that Turkey could attack the Kurds as soon as the U.S. troops leave.

What is the implication?

  • Tensions were so high that Mr. Erdogan refused to meet Mr. Bolton, who was in Turkey.
  • The U.S. is now in a dilemma.
  • Its President has announced the withdrawal. But it cannot just exit Syria without considering the existing geopolitical equations in the region.
  • Part of the problem is with the way Mr. Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops.
  • He should have held talks with the stakeholders, including Turkey, Russia and Kurds, before taking a decision.
  • He could have at least used his intent to pull out from Syria as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from other countries involved in the civil war.

What could be done now?

  • The U.S. could go ahead with the unilateral pull-out irrespective of what Turkey does.
  • This would leave the Kurds at the mercy of Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish troops.
  • Otherwise, Trump can wait on his decision and continue to station troops in Syria.
  • This can influence, at least partially, the outcome of the civil war.
  • But this is unlikely, given his aversion to keeping troops indefinitely in Syria (and other West Asian conflict zones).
  • In the third case, the U.S. can stagger the withdrawal and pursue talks with Turkey, Russia and the Syrian government.
  • It can try reaching an agreement to guarantee the protection of the Kurds and the defeat of the IS in Syria.
  • US should continue to keep diplomatic channels open to ensure that the pull-out is done in an orderly fashion.


Source: The Hindu

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