Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as U.S. special operations soldiers ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. (Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
This is actually a very complex situation and giving the right answer to this is not quite easy. This situation is gonna teach us a great deal about America’s actual place in the future of global politics. First off, I’ll answer why it is a bad thing, not taking in count how it gonna look in the eyes of the Kurds.
Earlier this year, at the first attempt of U.S. Military withdrawal from Northern Syria, Secretary of Defense, former Marine Corps General James Mattis, has turned in his resignation in protest of the President’s decision to pull all US troops out of Syria. Secretary Mattis is an extremely competent and well-liked leader in Washington, for very good reasons.
Secretary Mattis had the belief that leaving Syria in its current state will likely give way to insurgency forces like the Islamic State to return and take over the region, undermining the work that has been put forward to return that part of the world to some semblance of order. I believe that Secretary Mattis is correct.
A similar situation occurred not so long time ago in Iraq. In my opinion, and one of the long-standing criticisms of the Iraq War was that the worst decision made in it wasn’t going, but in the way we left. There were many errors in the planning and execution of the war, but by 2008, the main issues were settled. We should have been at a point where we began a decade long occupation phase where the nation was rebuilt, and where the main US military forces were 40-year-old engineers and police officers instead of 19-year-old Marines. See Germany and Japan for the example I’m looking for. There were limited insurgencies there too, but around 2010, that’s the phase we should have been entering.
Instead, in 2011 we pulled out. The official reason was that there was a negotiation dispute where Iraq wanted unreasonable restrictions placed on American troops, namely to be tried by local courts. And that was it, President Obama walked away leaving the country to itself. Shortly after that, terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq reformed and become strengthened following the breakdown of Syria, taking over large portions of that country.
Then, in a stunningly fast series of events during the Summer of 2014, invaded and overtook huge swaths of Iraq in the Al Anbar and Nineveh provinces. This was a direct result of the pullout three years earlier and leaving the country unprepared to protect its own territory even against far smaller, and far less equipped, organized, or trained forces were something that hangs on the prior president’s promise to divorce ourselves from a role in Iraq’s future.
There, we don’t even have a force to take over, as we did in Iraq with the Iraqi military. They are still technically in a state of civil war and the vacuum created in the region will undoubtedly create havoc. To be fair, we have somewhere around 2,000 troops in the region we are talking about pulling, which isn’t anywhere near the pullout as it was in Iraq, but it is still pretty clear absence that will send a message to those of the region that they better start making new friends soon.
In fact, simply killing all the ISIS forces won’t end the ISIS threat. Since the 1950s, the pattern of Islamic insurgents is to respond to the call to jihad wherever it is, create as much disruption and chaos as they can, and when the region comes back under order, all the insurgents leave back to their homes where they reequip, resupply, and prepare for the next call to jihad anywhere in the world. It would surprise people to know how few of those in ISIS were from Syria, but more so from places like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan (where some real hardcore killers came from), a huge number from Libya, and a disturbing number from Europe. Many, many of those guys weren’t killed and simply fled, trying to find their way back to their homes across the Islamic diaspora.
They will be back… somewhere… someday.
So there was a very clear need for a prolonged presence in the region, and continuing the fight internationally, that has ended prematurely.