- President Donald Trump has claimed his disastrous Syria decision is a part of his efforts to end “endless wars,” but he’s actually increased US troop presence in the Middle East.
- In recent months, the Pentagon has deployed approximately 14,000 additional troops to the Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions with Iran.
- Trump’s decision to pull US troops from northeast Syria has exacerbated conflict in the region, and opened the door for ISIS to make a comeback.
- Despite Trump’s claims that US troops are coming home from Syria, the Pentagon is actually moving to relocate them to Iraq and has signaled some might remain in Syria to guard oil fields.
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President Donald Trump has defended his controversial decision to abandon Kurdish forces to a Turkish invasion in Syria by claiming he’s bringing US troops home from “endless wars,” when he’s actually increased America’s footprint in the Middle East.
The withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria effectively served as a greenlight for Turkey to go after the Kurds, who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS and lost 11,000 fighters in the process. The move has sparked sharp criticism of Trump in Washington, including rare and impassioned rebukes from top congressional Republicans.
Trump has been accused of abandoning an ally that sacrificed a great deal in a fight that benefited US national security. Meanwhile, the Turkish incursion has brought about a humanitarian crisis and displaced hundreds of thousands of people amid simultaneous reports of war crimes committed against the Kurds.
In spite of the chaos, Trump has fiercely defended his abrupt decision by invoking the need for America to stop behaving as the world’s police and pull US troops out of conflict zones.
“I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars, where our great Military functions as a policing operation to the benefit of people who don’t even like the USA,” Trump tweeted on October 7, the day after the Syria retreat was announced.
Similarly, Trump on October 16 tweeted: “I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars, and be scorned.”
But the Trump administration is actually not working to immediately withdraw troops from Syria to bring them back to the US, and is instead moving them to other parts of the region.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said that US troops being pulled from northern Syria would be sent to western Iraq to counter ISIS and ensure it does not make a comeback in the area. He also said at least some troops will likely remain in Syria, including to secure oil fields in the region and prevent them from falling into ISIS’s hands. This undermines Trump’s repeated and false assertions that ISIS has been totally defeated.
The Iraqi military on Tuesday seemed to contradict Esper when it said that US forces leaving Syria cannot stay in Iraq.
The convoluted situation underscores the Trump administration’s lack of a coherent plan for the removal of US troops from Syria. The pandemonium has been exploited by Russia and opens the door for ISIS to make a comeback.
As Republican Sen. Marco Rubio put it in a tweet on Sunday, Trump’s Syria retweet wasn’t a “withdrawal” but a “relocation.” Rubio also noted that Trump has sent thousands of troops to the region in recent months, and said the Syria decision is not an “end of ‘endless wars.'”
Withdrawal & endless war weren’t only options in #Syria
This wasn’t a withdrawal its a relocation
This isn’t end of “endless wars”,14k troops have been sent to region in last 6 months
It was hasty decision with no planning & most consequential impact is dishonor & chaos
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 20, 2019
The US has roughly 200,000 troops stationed overseas, and deployed thousands of new troops to Saudi Arabia
Though Trump claims that he’s pulling the US out of “endless wars,” which is tied to his “America First” philosophy, an assessment from The New York Times shows he’s actually increased US troop presence across the Middle East since taking office.
At present, there are roughly 200,000 US troops deployed overseas, with 45,000 to 65,000 in the Persian Gulf region and Saudi Arabia alone. The Pentagon has deployed approximately 14,000 additional troops to the Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions with Iran. This includes 3,500 troops sent to Saudi Arabia on top of myriad other military assets such as a carrier strike group and B-52 bombers.
As of Trump’s latest decision, the US has about 200 troops in Syria after the total number in the country spiked at about 2,000 in 2017. There are also currently about 6,000 US forces in Iraq and beyond the Middle East: 12,000 to 13,000 in Afghanistan, 6,000 to 7,000 in Africa, and roughly 78,000 between South Korea and Japan, among other places.