Failing to withdraw from Syria after the defeat of ISIS’s caliphate left the U.S. with no clean exit options

October 9, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday, Turkey launched its promised military offensive in northern Syria following the reshuffling of a small contingent of U.S. forces from the region. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“When U.S. forces stayed behind following the defeat of ISIS’s caliphate, the U.S. was left with no clean way to extricate itself from Syria’s civil war. The U.S. could hold onto a portion of Syria indefinitely, turn the territory over to Turkey, or return it to Assad. That’s the reality on the ground.

“By refusing to leave and let the Kurds settle with Assad—restoring the pre-war status quo—the U.S. trapped itself in a no-win situation. With Turkey threatening to clear parts of northern Syria of SDF forces, our anti-ISIS partners, the U.S. could have risked war with its NATO ally or moved its forces out of harms way. As regrettable as this situation is, a U.S. war with Turkey would be worse.

“Withdrawal from Syria remains the strongest policy for the United States. The U.S. can use non-military leverage to pressure our NATO ally, providing at least some protection to the Kurds, and warn the Kurds that all U.S. troops will leave soon. That will allow them to prepare and negotiate with Damascus.”

USA Today opinion from Benjamin H. Friedman: Get out of Syria, but give the Kurds fair warning

Defense Priorities explainer: Disentangling from Syria's civil war