President Trump’s decision to slow the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, after initial reports that he planned for a “rapid” withdrawal, is raising a lot of questions. These center heavily on how this apparently unilateral slowing of the pullout is reconciled with previous promises to closely coordinate with Turkey.
The decision to withdraw, after all, came by all indications at the behest of the Turkish government, and at least in part as a way for the US to avoid getting mixed up in an imminent Turkish war against the Kurdish YPG, with whom they are embedded.
But after the US pullout went from a reported 30 days to “around four months,” does that mean Turkey’s timetable has also slowed for attacking Manbij? If not, Manbij could be attacked by Turkey with US forces inside the city, and the Syrian Army present to try to keep the invading Turks away. This results from the Kurds quickly allying with Syria’s government after the pullout was announced. That could be even messier than the initial invasion envisioned.
Even if the US moves out of Manbij and other early targets for Turkey, the Syrian government’s involvement in the defense of Kurdish territory means the US will risk the appearance that they are handing over the defense of this region to Syria. In reality, the US has been comfortable with the Kurdish territory falling to Turkey, and wanted to facilitate that with the pullout.
Slowing that down, and not even putting a definitive date on it beyond “about four months” greatly confuses the US position. The US is moving away from its alliance with the YPG, and keeping an estimated 2,000 troops embedded in YPG territory will be terribly awkward, particularly as the YPG continues to court new allies who aren’t necessarily on good terms with the US.
Trump may have found slowing the process necessary in the face of angry opposition to the pullout from massive numbers of Congressional hawks. Yet it is forcing everyone to scramble to change plans to fit the still nebulous US schedule, and the future of the US-Turkey coordination is completely up in the air.