By the time May 1, 2019, rolls around, American troops will have rolled out of Syria entirely, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plan calls for a complete American withdrawal from the country after the last vestiges of ISIS territory have been captured by the various anti-ISIS factions in the country.
As of February, the remaining Islamic State fighters and their families are fleeing whatever strips of territory still under its control in Syria as President Donald Trump doubled down on his assertion that the Islamic State had been defeated in Syria and the time is right for American troops to return to their home bases.
Anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters pose with a captured ISIS flag.
The United States did not break the back of ISIS over the past five years on its own. Kurdish forces from Syria and Iraq, along with fighters from other various factions were led by U.S. forces in Syria, either through air cover, artillery support, and direction from American special operations troops. As of yet, there is no plan in place to secure these Syrian fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), once their American support is gone.
President Trump’s current timeline is set to pull a significant number of American troops out of Syria by mid-March, 2019, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April. After that time, Kurdish fighters on the ground will be open to retaliation from Turkish forces operating in Syria, who consider the Kurds terrorists in their own right. Also fighting the Kurds will be other Islamic militant groups still operating, as well as Russian-backed Syrian government troops.
A U.S. armored vehicle in Al-Hasakah meets with Kurdish YPG fighters in Kurdish-held territory in Northern Syria, May, 2017.
The United States is trying to reach a political agreement with the Turkish government to protect the Kurdish fighters, who did the bulk of the fighting against ISIS on the ground. Given the current timetable for withdrawal, an agreement seems unlikely unless the U.S. military slows its process. Kurdish allies will no doubt express alarm at the removal of the 2,000 Americans in Syria.
Pentagon spokespeople and the United States Central Command have all expressed that there is no official timeline for withdrawal, and no conditions are fixed for a removal of Americans from the country, but equipment and materiel support for the troops has already begun to move out of Syria.