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Regional effects of US withdrawal from Syria

Dec 30,2018 - Last updated at Dec 30,2018

The US decision to withdraw its troops from Syria should be considered from a political perspective, as well as from its military implications. It is a clear sign that the deteriorating relations between Ankara and Washington are being mended, as Turkey is replacing US troops in Syria, suggesting that Turkey has resumed its role as a close American ally in the region.

American cooperation with the Kurds in Syria was the major pont of contention between Ankara and Washington, pushing Ankara closer to Iran and Russia as Iran is similarly suspicious of the Kurds. The Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance has contained much of the Syrian crisis over the past few years, and has been responsible for the de-escalation zones announced in Astana and the accomplishments in Sochi, where they agreed on the beginning of a political solution. As such, Turkey moving back to its alliance with America could have a profound impact on Middle Eastern politics.

This move from the US is said to be part of a new Middle Eastern strategy for the Trump administration, which appears to be based on dismantling the Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance, by bringing Turkey back into the fold. Effectively appointing Turkey as its proxy in Syria, the US is pitting Turkey against Iran as they are now responsible for containing Iranian influence. 

The US withdrawal will also create a vacuum that the Islamist and pro-Turkish militias will attempt to fill, potentially destabilising Syria even more. Turkey is likely to seize the opportunity to demonstrate its power in the region, suggesting that the Kurds are now facing complex threats from all sides. In addition, Daesh and other extremest militias, particularly those which are just emerging, will try to prove their power as the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Kurds are no longer backed by US forces. 

The Syrians will face continuous threats on their own, draining their resources and manpower, which is also going to distract them from the Golan Heights and the Israeli border region. The move by the US and the Turks could also negatively impact Russia’s policies in Syria, as the power balance shifts. The Russians might need to quickly end the situation in Idlib as a security collapse could spread and undo all of the work they have done to stabilise the country. 

The renewed US-Turkish relationship will have impacts across the region. The Trump administration has successfully ended the anti-Saudi campaign of the Turks by positioning them as a major player in shaping its policies in the region. 

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