JEDDAH: The US will not police the Middle East and it was time for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria to play a greater role in fighting Daesh, Donald Trump said on Thursday hours before his defense secretary quit, citing policy differences.
The US president was expanding on his decision to withdraw America’s 2,000 remaining troops from northern Syria, where they have been combating the militant group alongside an alliance of Kurdish militias.
In a letter to Trump on Thursday, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said his political outlook, which cherishes traditional alliances, could no longer be reconciled with that of the president, who has poured scorn on longstanding partnerships and repeatedly sought closer ties with Russia.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday took US allies, politicians and military chiefs by surprise, but he said on Thursday it had been his aim since he was elected two years ago.
“We’ve won against Daesh. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.
“Does the USA want to be the policeman of the Middle East, getting nothing but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? It’s time for others to finally fight.”
The president also attacked US Republican lawmaker Lindsey Graham for putting American lives at risk in Syria, after the senator branded Trump’s claim that Daesh had been defeated as “fake news” and called the pull out “disastrous.”
“So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$,” the president wrote on Twitter, adding: “why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals? Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”
A US official, late on Thursday, said that the Trump administration has also decided to remove a significant amount of troops from Afghanistan.
France and Britain pledged on Thursday to keep their forces in the region, and warned that, contrary to Trump’s claim that Daesh had been defeated, the fight was far from over.
“We remain committed to the global coalition and the campaign to deny Daesh territory and ensure its enduring defeat,” a spokesman for Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said.
French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said: “It’s true that the coalition has made significant progress in Syria, but this fight continues, and we will continue it.”
Trump did not address the air campaign against Daesh targets. Pentagon spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich said airstrikes would continue while American soldiers were in Syria, but not necessarily after they leave.
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the US withdrawal, and said Trump was right to do so.
The main losers are expected to be Kurdish militias in northern Syria. Turkey views many of them as terrorists and has long threatened military action, but the US presence has provided a measure of protection.
“A military operation can now be done with more ease and less risk given that there won’t be an issue of a confrontation with US troops,” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy in Istanbul, told Arab News.
“But Ankara may also decide to allow the Assad regime to establish its control over this territory, and ensure that it does not represent a security threat to Turkey.”