The Syrian Question: Is Withdrawal Necessary?

Illustration by Zell Thomas

Syria’s Civil War started on March 15, 2011, and now has many groups and nations providing resources and fighters to aid different sides of the conflict. Beginning in 2014, there was a rapid rise in the area of the religious terrorist group known as the Islamic State (IS). The violent organization has since taken control of sections of Syria and Iraq. A coalition of nations, including the United States, was formed in order to deal with and remove their presence.

In 2015, Barack Obama sent troops to Syria and Iraq and utilized one of America’s greatest military assets, the Air Force, to do what almost no one else would: provide systematic and tactical airstrikes against heavy targets, while at the same time providing air-dropped supplies to support allies and civilians alike. In coordination with the other nations, the coalition began air-striking captured territory in Iraq with the request of the Iraqi government. They also penetrating the sovereign airspace of Syria without permission. Fortunately, the Assad regime did not fire upon the U.S. aircraft, and thus the airstrikes continued.

However, as previously stated, airstrikes are not the only way the U.S. was operating in the area. Approximately 3,000 advisors and logistics personnel provided aid to Kurdish and Iraqi security forces; special forces units were deployed on capture missions and hostage recovery operations. From 2014–2016, the U.S. spent $7 billion on operations to combat IS in Syria and Iraq, 50 percent of which was spent on airstrikes. Overall, the strategy of combating IS with airstrikes and well supported allies in the region is a strategy for fighting the terrorist group at its source.

Throughout the modern history of the U.S., we’ve constantly run into problems where bombing an insurgency group to dust has failed uspick any major war since World War II. Whether we look at Vietnam or the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, indiscriminate bombing only leads to more radicalized aggression. Our current strategy is designed not only to help eliminate the actual threat posed by the fighters on the ground, but also to discourage those who might be otherwise convinced into supporting the fighters and encouraging them to join our side.

The battle for ideology is a long and important one, but there still needs to be combat operations on the ground to help push back against IS activities in the region. Thousands of bombing operations have been carried out since 2014, and continue to be carried out, leading to a massive loss of IS infrastructure. With consistent airstrikes, the coalition of nations against IS continues to drain the group of resources and manpower, allowing allied forces to overwhelm them, secure cities, and free civilians under the terrorists’ reign. This is all despite President Donald Trump’s December 2018 announcement of a withdrawal from Syria, in which he planned for U.S. troops to be fully out of Syria within a few months.

With victory approaching, it would seem like the perfect time to begin a demobilization effort and to plan for the future, perhaps making Trump’s withdrawal announcement rather timely; however, there is fear from our allies that the disease that is IS has not been removed sufficiently enough, and should we take the pressure off of them, they would return with vengeance.

With so many resources being utilized in fighting IS, there are definitely reasons why withdrawal is necessary and inevitable. The U.S. cannot continue violating sovereign airspace of a foreign power indefinitely, but this gets into another aspect of the issue that also must be examined when planning a withdrawal. When do our allies want to leave?

Part of executing a successful fight against terrorist groups on foreign soil is having a carefully planned withdrawal strategy. As previously mentioned, the U.S. formed a coalition to fight this war, which means that withdrawal should be planned with our coalition, not over Twitter. And sadly, the most vulnerable of our allies are the ones who would carry the brunt of the fallout, if we withdraw incorrectly.

Our Kurdish allies in the region have been fighting IS through its entire existence. They have also served as some of the most reliable boots on the ground for the coalition. Unfortunately, the concerns of the Kurdish people have often been overlooked and ignored as they are not their own country but reside as a people group inside many different countries, including Syria and Iraq. Should the U.S. fully immobilize too hastily, the Kurds could find themselves yet again unaided and fighting for their survival.

Allied Iraqi security forces, both military and law enforcement, are also major groups who would suffer should the U.S. improperly withdraw from Syria. There is quite a bit of worry that, should IS resurface, Iraq will yet again have to deal with incursions by Islamic State. And needing time to re-immobilizer forces, Iraq would have to yet again try and stabilize its own region as best it can.

In the end, withdrawal is inevitable; we cannot continue fighting this war forever, but we have to make sure the job is done before withdrawing, and we have to make sure that our allies are in a position where they will not be threatened again. Tragically, some Kurds had actually hoped that because Trump was such a radical president, he would pay attention to the needs of the Kurdish people and possibly support them beyond the war with Islamic State, helping them gain their own country. Unfortunately, this more nuanced thinking appears to be lacking in our current commander in chief.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.