A rapid troop withdrawal from Syria is a costly move for U.S. Foreign Policy

by Asha Castleberry

Rapid troop withdrawal from Syria will be devastating for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East Region.  The decision to unilaterally retreat troops without consultation from close advisors, Congress, and our allies is impulsive and counterproductive.  This miscalculation decision is a disruption for current military operations that are still fighting against ISIS.  There is no doubt that the U.S.-led coalition is still working to counter ISIS amid significant territorial losses.  As recently noted by U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, General Dunford warned that ISIS is far from being defeated.


Furthermore, the latest U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism underscored that ISIS remains the primary transnational terrorist threat to the United States.   So, U.S. military disengagement benefits our adversaries and hurts our regional allies.  Also, a U.S. troop withdrawal during this phase of the crisis could provoke many costs including the rise of a new insurgency force (ISIS 2.0), an awkward relationship with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and leverage a Turkish counter-offensive in Northern Syria against our partners.  Consequently, this mission can turn into a big waste of U.S. taxpayer money.


It is critical that the current administration reverse this decision and develop a comprehensive strategy.  For quite some time, the current administration has lacked a thorough approach facing many shortfalls in the battlefield.  U.S. military posture struggled with deterring pro-regime forces, unable to keep Russia and Iran from retaking key areas. Russia has even set conditions to initiate a future major counter-offensive targeting the U.S. and its partners in Eastern Syria as Russia continues to expand its military posture.  According to the Institute of the Study of War, Russia has built new military bases and just recently expanded an advanced air defense network constraining U.S. and NATO’s military options in Syria.


Also, Turkish aggression against the Kurdish People Protection Units, the most critical partner is still a major operational concern for the anti-ISIS coalition. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains thirsty to consolidate more power in Northern Syria despite that the fact that the U.S. has been actively providing meditation between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Since the Afrin offensive, Turkey remains determined to counter Syrian Kurds.  Recently, Erdoğan announced a possible new military launch targeting Syrian Kurds in Manbij.  The U.S. should not leave our partners alone to a potential attack.         


The current administration should closely work with Congress to develop a stronger strategy as recommended under the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.  Most Americans do not want to stay in Syria for a long time, as in the case of Afghanistan.  However, we should not prematurely retreat from the region. So, it is essential that the U.S. develop a comprehensive strategy with a coherent exit plan.  Furthermore, increased congressional oversight is necessary.  Congress may want to consider updating the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that includes strong foreign policy objectives.   

Asha Castleberry is an adjunct faculty professor at Fordham University. She teaches U.S. Foreign Policyand United Nation Peace Operations. She is a Truman Fellow and a Board Member of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation.

Bonnie Jenkins