On Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared victory in Syria and announced plans to withdraw U.S. troops which had been protecting civilians from incursions by Russian and Turkish troops and ISIS fighters.
While Trump has declared his mission accomplished, a retired general who fought ISIS in neighboring Iraq said there’s no truth to that claim.
Gen. Mark Hertling went on CNN Wednesday and said that the plan made no sense and appears to be “transactional” arrangement with Russia and the Turks.
“The Pentagon puts the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria at 30,000,” said CNN anchor Jim Sciutto “How can the president claim today that ISIS is defeated in Syria?”
“He can’t, truthfully,” said Hertling. “This was very surprising to me—not only the announcement but the timing. I don’t understand why it is happening now. The U.S. Forces have just started an offensive with the Syrian defense forces and the Kurds against the town of Hajin, which is considered an ISIS stronghold… You’re talking about making both the Russians, the Syrian Bashar Al Assad, the Iranians and the Turks very happy about this move because the Kurdish forces are going to see this as us turning against them one more time.”
Hertling said that the only argument that makes sense to him is that this is a transaction between Trump and foreign powers.
“What is interesting that has not been brought up yet is there seems to be a transactional element to this, too,” he said. “Over the last days the U.S. Has sealed the deal with Turkey for $3.5 billion worth of Patriot missile systems that were signed yesterday by our State Department. I’m sure that played a role, a little bit, in this.”
Reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who has reported extensively in the area, said that people in the area have been “working so hard to push forward” and that the United States is “so little attuned to what is going on outside our borders that a real story of forward momentum, of progress in the right direction among fragility has been lost.”
“One hairdresser I interviewed in April, visited in August, and I saw this weekend, was talking about how she saved up enough money to open up her own shop and she said ‘all we want is for continued security and stability because the extremists want to come back and we don’t want them,'” she said. “I think few of us have appreciated how many gains have been made.”
“So let me get this straight,” said anchor Sciutto. “This serves Russian interests. It serves Iranian interests. It takes the heat off of ISIS and does a favor for Turkey. How does it serve U.S. interests?”
“It doesn’t serve U.S. interests,” the general said. “You have to make these advances over time. Last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said we are going to be there for a while. The Secretary of Defense said, on I think last Thursday, that he was thinking about border patrols between Turkey and the Kurdish region. None of this makes sense, and it doesn’t serve either our long term or short term interest in bringing peace to the region and stopping the kind of immigration that we have seen with people running away from these multiple threats of Russia, Iranian and Syria offenses.”