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The consequences of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria

Nearly eight years into Syria's civil war, President Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw U.S. troops from the region has many worried about far-reaching repercussions, as Syria and its allies, along with the Kurds and a remaining international coalition, volley for control of the territory and resources. Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on Syria and the region we're joined now by Associated Press correspondent Sara El Deeb, who is based in Beirut for joining us here in New York. I want to start with the bigger picture of Syria. Right now we are in the middle of this, what seems to be public policy. It's happening in front of our eyes: how and whether U.S. troops are going to pull out. Why is that so consequential?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    This is one of the most complex conflicts in the region. It's consequential because this is probably the last leg in that conflict and I think everyone is positioning themselves to make their word count more than everyone else. And. In the middle of all that we see a decision by the U.S. to say, 'No I'm leaving and I'm getting out of here and I'm leaving the field,' I think at that stage whether the U.S. had been has been very influential in Syria or not, the perception has been that it is very influential. So now at the final chapter when the government is winning when Russia and Iran are advancing when Turkey is threatening an offensive in the north east in Syria the U.S. says 'I'm leaving.' There must be consequences to that. And we don't really know the extent of the consequences. I think everyone's grappling with the meaning of that anything is trying to figure it out. And in the middle of an ambiguous plan for withdrawal no one seems to really know the immediate or the long term effect of that of that withdrawal and maybe the immediate we can talk about. But the long term effect of that I think remains unclear.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So the conflict for the United States has primarily been framed about going after the Islamic State group. The president has framed it as what we've declared victory basically. We don't need to be in this area which he encapsulates down into sand and death. Right. But what are the ripple effects immediately for a very multi-party fight over a specific region?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Let's take it from the geography of the place. It's not death and sand, this area is one of the richest in Syria. It's green. It's also a breadbasket for the rest of Syria and it's got oil fields and water resources and them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So it's something Assad cares a lot about.

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Everyone, all the players there one way or the other, for you to be able to negotiate anything in Syria. I think resources we know muscles count the resources and impact will will have meaning. And in Syria if everyone if the capital at one point was the most significant seat or fight then northeast out I would argue is probably the second most important. The immediate consequences that we have actually seen military buildup I mean like I was saying Turkey is sending troops and reinforcement there. Turkey is a U.S. ally but it's been a very tenuous relationship and we don't they don't agree on what to do in north and northeast Syria and Iran. And the government Syrian government and Russia have presence in the south east. So where will they go. Would they be ready to replace the U.S. troops if they pull out. And it's not just U.S. troops. We have a coalition number of friends possibly other other members of the coalition that are present there in that area. But immediately we have a partner Syrian Kurdish partner that had worked with the U.S. over the years. They are very shocked and stunned. They were very shocked and stunned by that decision. They've. Lost a lot of fighters in that fight in comparison to what the Coalition or the U.S. has lost as maybe a hundred times more. They will be left out in the cold if the U.S. leaves them they are not. They have chosen to work with the U.S. for the last four years.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Could they turn around and start working with Russia and Assad?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    I think that they have dabbled with that, they try to see what it would mean to work with the Syrian government and the Russian. I mean they are indigenous, they are local to Syria they're not going to leave when the U.S. leaves they have to find a way to exist in that area. Their problem has been that the decision. They never they never expected the U.S. to forever stay. But I think for the U.S. to announce that they are pulling out when Turkey their most immediate enemy is threatening to take them on and drive them out of that area. That was that was a stunner that was a bit of a shock. I think now they have to find a way to protect themselves. They have never stopped talking to the Russians because operationally everyone has to talk to everyone in Syria. It's a very complex battlefield. So they have kept contact with the Russians at one point or the other. Now they realize the importance of talking to Russia because Russia has influence over the Syrian government which ultimately will give them a role in a future Syria or protect them if there is no one else to do so. I think it's a very complex negotiating table. We have to. Keep following bit by bit. But it changes all the time. I was just talking to a Kurdish official in Syria and she was telling me that two, three days ago she was telling me we don't know the U.S. plan a couple of hours ago she said We know we've been promised it's going to be slow and it's going to be oversight over a long period staggered over a long period. So I think what we find out about what's going to happen in Syria is really something we find out as it develops on the ground not what people tell us in statements or declarations.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Sarah El Deeb, thank you for your continued coverage of it.

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Thank you.

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