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Still Fighting, US Troops from Syria to Afghanistan Await Trump Orders

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
January 9, 2017
Defense One


More U.S. special operations forces to Iraq? More U.S. troops in Syria? Stay in Afghanistan?  Calm Turkey or stick with the Syrian Kurdish forces doing the fighting? Try for both?

Welcome to Trump’s foreign policy options: same as the old ones, only more so.

President-elect Trump takes office with no shortage of global conflicts. The question is what his arrival at the White House will mean for their handling. And the truth is, no one knows.

What is clear is that Syria is on fire and the war shows no signs of ending any time soon. “Assad must go” as a stated policy likely is gone, based on Trump’s recent statements about the undesirability of toppling dictators. Russia’s backing of the Syrian regime and its commitment to shaping facts on the ground has carried the day. Assad will now outlast President Barack Obama in office and may do the same with Trump. There is talk of a Syrian transition of power once the war, but no departure date looks imminent.

The most immediate question is whether Trump stays with current Obama policy or will decide to do anything more. Will he continue to have others do the fighting and pair with a hotpot of local forces to achieve the stated military objective — in this case, toppling the Islamic State, or, at the least, routing them from Raqqa? Right now U.S. forces are working alongside Syrian Kurdish militias, a fighting force U.S. special operations leaders see as effective and competent. In the process of this pairing, America is earning the ire of Turkey, which considers these forces linked to Kurdish separatists leading an insurgency against the Turkish government. Turkey has spoken plainly of its anger about America’s battlefield friends and even has raised the idea of ending U.S. access to Incirlik air base because of them.

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