Trump’s Syria withdrawal scuppered plan to ward off Turkish offensive – Pentagon official

The Pentagon had a plan in place that could have prevented Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria that was scuttled by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops, the top U.S. defence official in the Middle East told news site Defense One in an interview on Monday.

U.S. officials were within touching distance of a joint patrol arrangement with Turkish troops that would have assuaged Ankara’s security concerns and may have prevented the incursion, said Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Mick Mulroy.

“I think it would have worked, to be honest,” said Mulroy after his duties under the Trump administration ended on Friday. “It wasn’t perfect. But I think it was in everybody’s interest to actually have done that. Turkey’s security concerns would’ve been addressed. We would have prevented the need for an incursion.”

The United States’ partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) caused outrage in Turkey, which views the Kurdish-led group as a terrorist organisation.

A deal struck in August to create a safe zone jointly patrolled by U.S. and Turkish forces prevented Turkey from launching an incursion that month, but when Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. troops involved in the patrols on Oct. 6, it acted as a green light for Ankara to trigger Operation Peace Spring three days later.

The U.S. president campaigned with a promise to remove U.S. troops from “endless wars” around the world, and he announced a full withdrawal from Syria last December, later softening the decision to instead reduce the number of troops in the country.

The Pentagon had been working to implement Trump’s drawdown before the president’s surprise announcement in October, Mulroy said.

“They [the Pentagon] have followed presidential guidance from day one. We had a plan and we were reducing forces,” he said. “We were consolidating our gains and we were planning for the future of when we would even have less forces.”

The Pentagon’s former Middle East chief added that there had been no reason for Turkey to be concerned while the U.S. troops were present alongside the Kurdish forces.

“We were partnered with the SDF,” he said. “So if they were a threat to Turkey, we’d’ve known it and we’d’ve stopped it. And I think that’s something that we need to highlight, is that they were not.”