Pentagon's order for military to leave Syria has been signed

The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, seen in an aerial photo taken in 2015.
The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, seen in an aerial photo taken in 2015.PHOTO: AFP

Trump's controversial call shocks allies and US politicians but lauded by Turkish leader

WASHINGTON • The order to withdraw American troops from Syria has been signed, the US military said, after President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to prevent a power vacuum in the wake of the controversial move.

The announcement that US troops would leave the civil war-torn country - where they have been deployed to assist in the multinational fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group - shocked global partners and American politicians alike.

"The execute order for Syria has been signed," said a US military spokesman on Sunday, when asked about the withdrawal order, without providing further details.

Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Mr Trump's momentous call on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target US-allied Kurdish fighters who have played a key role in the anti-ISIS war but are deemed terrorists by Ankara.

Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan spoke by phone on Sunday and "agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria", the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Hours earlier, Mr Trump had tweeted that he and Mr Erdogan "discussed (ISIS), our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area".

US politicians and allies fear the pullout would further destabilise the already devastated region.

A US withdrawal, said Mr Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst, will open the way "for Turkey to start its operations against the Kurds, and a bloody war will begin".

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he "deeply regretted" Mr Trump's decision, and that "an ally must be reliable".

US troops will leave under the watch of a new Pentagon chief next month, after Mr James Mattis resigned from the post citing key differences, including on Syria, with the often-impulsive Mr Trump.

Several US politicians from the Republican and Democratic parties rejected Mr Trump's claim that ISIS had been defeated, and the decision also caused alarm and dismay in the US military over the prospect of suddenly abandoning Washington's Kurdish partners.

Mr Trump's sudden decision also sparked turmoil within his administration, prompting the resignation of Mr Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition.

Plans for the troop withdrawal will be overseen by Deputy Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan, who Mr Trump on Sunday said would replace Mr Mattis on Jan 1.

Mr Shanahan has never served in the military. He spent over three decades working for Boeing, including as vice-president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defence Systems, before moving to the Pentagon as deputy last year.

He will lead plans for US troops to leave Syria along with a drastic drawdown in Afghanistan, both of which critics worry will leave war-torn regions at risk of continued bloodshed.

EDITORIAL

OPINION

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2018, with the headline 'Pentagon's order for military to leave Syria has been signed'. Print Edition | Subscribe