Trump abruptly ordered withdrawal after Erdoğan asked him why US remains in Syria: Report
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against ISIL, according to U.S. and Turkish officials speaking to the Associated Press.
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week, two officials briefed on the matter said.
The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, is a view into a Trump decision with profound consequences, including the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, according to the AP.
"The talking points were very firm," said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. "Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that."
Erdoğan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat ISIL and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. "Why are you still there?" the second official said Erdoğan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining ISIL militants.
With Erdoğan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdoğan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIL coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that ISIL retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.
Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over ISIL had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.
Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdoğan.