Here it is finally. The time has arrived for the fabled, confused and precarious US troop withdrawal from Syria despite the best efforts of neocons and interventionistas to permanently stall and alter course, per a new Wall Street Journal report that dropped late in the day Thursday: "the military plans to pull a significant portion of its forces out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April."
But you might be forgiven for remaining skeptical with a "believe it when I see it" approach, as President Trump first announced a "rapid withdrawal" on Dec. 19 which quickly became "no timeline" in the weeks that followed — though it depended on who in the administration or Pentagon was asked — with many determined to quash Trump's prior campaign promises of "bring our boys home." But now the WSJ speaks with a new confidence that this time it's for real:
The U.S. military is preparing to pull all American forces out of Syria by the end of April, even though the Trump administration has yet to come up with a plan to protect its Kurdish partners from attack when they leave, current and former U.S. officials said.
What's hanging the balance, and of concern for US officials, is the unresolved fate of the Kurds who are now looking down the barrels of the Turkish army and the head-chopping knives of their jihadi 'rebel' allies on the ground, poised to invade formerly US-occupied space in Syria.
The WSJ report, citing US officials, says that Washington and Ankara have "made little headway" on the Kurdish issue after a series of diplomatic cold shoulders, including John Bolton being personally snubbed by Turkish president Erdogan last month while Bolton was visiting Turkey for talks. The US has aimed to avert a direct fight (in which the Kurds would face slaughter or certain retreat), but simultaneously to prevent its Kurdish allies on the ground from entering the embrace and protection of Assad.
Something has to give, so could it be that Trump is willing to accept Kurdish rapprochement with Damascus? It could very well be headed toward a "look the other way situation" on this front, as the WSJ notes "the U.S. military withdrawal is proceeding faster than the political track."
“The bottom line is: Decisions have to be made,” one U.S. official told the WSJ. “At some point, we make political progress, or they’re going to have to tell the military to slow down, or we’re going to proceed without a political process.”
However, the WSJ also noted that the Pentagon has yet to comment: “We are not discussing the timeline of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria,” said a Pentagon spokesman.
It should be noted that Trump's latest rhetoric seems a preparation for quick pullout, or big coming announcement: “It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate,” the president said Wednesday during an anti-ISIL coalition speech at the State Department.
According to the WSJ report, some 2,000 US service members would withdraw as follows:
Under the working military plans, the U.S. would pull all troops out in the coming weeks — including about 200 Americans working out of a base in southern Syria [al-Tanf] that has served as an informal check on Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the region, the current and former U.S. officials said.
And on Tuesday, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, said in testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, “I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date, and I have not had any specific conditions put upon me,” Gen. Votel said, but crucially he added, “The fact is the president made a decision, and we are going to execute his orders here to withdraw all forces from Syria.”
Per Trump's words on Wednesday, will an April "complete exit" be announced from the mouth of the president himself next week, at which point the Pentagon and administration hawks will no longer able to stall?