Trump has delivered what Russia wants in Syria — at zero cost — and 'Putin likely can't believe his luck'

Business Insider Politics 2 months ago
  • "Putin likely can't believe his luck" at Trump's withdrawal of US troops from the Kurdish region on the border of Syria and Turkey, a Western military official from the anti-ISIS coalition told Insider.
  • Syrian troops entering Kurdish-held Rojava represents a massive victory for not only Syrian dictator Assad, but also Putin and the Iranians, who had long demanded the Americans withdraw from the corridor that links northern Iraq to eastern Syria.
  • "Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn't even have to do much," a NATO official told Insider. "He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn't even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he'd interfere on Trump's side in an election."

Syrian President Bashar al Assad — backed by his Russian patrons — moved Monday to exploit the collapse of the US military presence in northeastern Syria by driving troops into the previously autonomous region managed by a Kurdish-dominated militia that had been under American protection for the last five years.

The unlikely sequence of events began last weekend after President Donald Trump ended US opposition to a Turkish offensive into Syria during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. The call ended both the US mission to fight ISIS and to reduce Iranian and Russian influence in war-shattered Syria. It left Tehran, Moscow and Damascus with a huge victory that required little more than watching the American presence disappear on its own. 

Because of the Turkish invasion and the American pullout, Syria is wide open to return to Assad's control

"Putin likely can't believe his luck," said a Western military official from the anti-ISIS coalition who recently served in Syria. "A third of Syria was more or less free of ISIS and its security was good without any involvement of the regime or Russia, and now because of the Turkish invasion and American pullout, this area is wide open to return to government control."

"What was supposed to be a diplomatically complex issue that would have involved US and European military power suddenly got as simple as sending in tanks and units unopposed throughout the eastern third of Syria," the official who does not have permission to speak to the media said. 

Syrian troops and their Russian advisors were invited into the enclave that Kurds call Rojava by the head of the Syrian Defense Forces, a Kurdish dominated militia that with US assistance had driven ISIS out of northeastern Syria, after the realization that the Americans would do nothing to protect the group from an invasion of Turkish troops and Syrian rebel proxies along the border. 

SDF commander Mazlum Kobani defended the decision to partner with the Syrian regime and its Russian backers in a statement that explained the group was left without a choice in the face of Turkish aggression.

"We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Assad," he wrote. "But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people."

1,000 American special operations troops plan a hasty exit from the battlefield

The effect on Sunday was almost immediate. Syrian military units entered the area, driving towards the northern border and a possible confrontation with Turkish forces, as about 1,000 American special operations troops planned a hasty exit from the battlefield. Syrian government media and Kurdish SDF sources confirmed the Syrian troops would take control of the cities of Manbij and Kobani before either could be occupied by the Turks and their proxies. 

At least part of the US presence appeared to be in disarray as Turkish troops and proxies took control of key roads and population centers in a 20-mile band along the border. Two US outposts in the western portion of the now contested border region appeared to have been cut off from other US units by road, leaving about 100 troops at least temporarily unable to move as they coordinated in an increasingly complicated battlespace. 

"The US patrols from Kobani have been cut off from the eastern half of Rojava where we expect them to exit Syria into [northern] Iraq," said an SDF commander reached in Kobani. "We cannot help them. They are negotiating with the Turks."

Putin, Assad and Iran had long demanded the US leave. Now it has.

Syrian government troops entering into Rojava without a fight represents a massive victory for not only Assad but also Putin and the Iranians, who had long demanded the Americans withdraw from the strategically critical corridor that links northern Iraq to eastern Syria.

With the Americans out of the way, government-controlled Syria is likely to increase by about a third. That will likely include key ground transport lines and the large oil fields around Deir Azzour.

"Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn't even have to do much," the NATO official said. "He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn't even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he'd interfere on Trump's side in an election."


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