US Withdrawal from Syria: When and How?
Reem Issa – Saad Saeb Reem Issa – Saad Saeb

US Withdrawal from Syria: When and How?

If we put aside the different classifications and look at one issue: where are American troops located within the countries of the region called the “Middle East”, then we will see that American troops are present in almost all of those countries. This presence is in fixed NATO bases; within operations of “alliances”, “trainings”, or something along those lines; or in a direct hostile manner.

Within the map of US military presence in the region, we can distinguish three countries in which the US presence meets the traditional characteristics of hostile and occupying military presence. These countries are: Afghanistan (since 2001), Iraq (since 2003), and Syria (since 2014).

The second characteristic of the US military presence in these three countries is that it is a relatively recent one and is associated with a period whose main feature is an economic and political crisis that is deepening year after year. In other words, it is a presence that is characterized by a military extension beyond the traditional lines that were drawn in our region during the Cold War.

What we are seeing today is that the US is practically out of Afghanistan, its withdrawal from Iraq is underway and in full swing, and even under fire which now affects not only US presence in Iraq, but has also started to heat up clearly under the Americans in Syria.

These indicators, and others that we will cover in this article, resolve the question about whether or not US forces will withdraw from Syria within a short time period, and replaces that question with two other questions for immediate discussion: When will the withdrawal take place, and how?

The US is withdrawing, not Trump

There is no harm in reminding that many who believe in American exceptionalism and greatness have insisted during the Trump years on attributing the withdrawal intentions to him in particular, whether the intentions were about withdrawing from Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. It is no secret what the main goal behind this is: trying to obscure the general US retreat at the global level, because the rulers in our region and a large part of their “oppositions” are designed in advance in such a manner to work and live within the coordinates of a world ruled by the US, and are unable to adapt to another new world.

One of the issues that misled those who dreamt that the US would stay is that the slogan to “bring the troops home” has been a common slogan the last three US presidents carried for 12 years, without really carrying it out. What was actually happening most of the time was quite the opposite, that is, US presence was being reinforced.

What has further deepened the misleading were the attempts to portray the “Trump era” as pure madness that is completely outside of history and of every general strategy of the American state. Through this last point specifically, an attempt was made to process and analyze the withdrawals that Trump conducted during the last year and a half of his term. Among those withdrawals, which were detailed in an article in Kassioun published in August 2020 entitled “Old America’s Race Against Time… How is the US Preparing for its Withdrawal from Syria?” we note the following:


Since August 2020, more withdrawals have taken place and have continued to accelerate since Biden took office in January of this year, including the latest major one from Afghanistan earlier this month, when American forces vacated Bagram Airfield, the largest US base in Afghanistan.

It has been announced that the operation under which the US and NATO forces have been in Afghanistan, that is “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”, is set to conclude on August 31, 2021, and with it ending the presence of US and NATO forces there.

Withdrawal under fire

Among the important developments over the last year, which have intensified over the last couple of months, has been an increased targeting of US forces and bases in Iraq and Syria. Putting it into numbers, based on statistics by several agencies, since Biden took office on January 20 of this year, that is in under six months, there have been at least 25 declared attacks (17 rocket, 8 drone) against US targets in Iraq and Syria. The US has only responded twice, which is a significant indicator as well.

While we started this section, which we titled “withdrawal under fire”, by talking about the actual and direct fire aimed at US presence in Iraq and Syria (and it would not be difficult to come up with many similar examples from Afghanistan), the bigger, larger, and more threatening fire for the US, which prompts it to withdraw in principle, is exactly what Biden expressed in his briefing on July 8. In this briefing, Biden clarified the necessity for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, directly linking this to the US’ “need to focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that is really going to determine our future”.

What applies to the withdrawal from Afghanistan applied to the withdrawal from our entire reason, which will not be about “bringing the troops home”, but instead a repositioning aimed at assembling forces and expenses so that they are all put into the main US battle that is primarily with China. (This should not be understood to mean that we are saying there will be a direct war between the two countries, but what is precisely meant is that the US has to condense their diminishing economic resources and diminishing forces to concentrate them in the most important battle, and this involves primarily provoking as much chaos as possible, including color revolutions and violent and terrorist acts, on and within China’s borders: across the China Sea, and across India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan...etc.).

The withdrawal from Iraq

A few days ago, following a meeting between US and Iraqi officials in Iraq, a BBC reporter indicated through several reports that there are ongoing discussions about US withdrawal plans from Iraq.

Interestingly, the BBC reporter deleted a tweet in which she reportedly said: “White house coordinator for MidEast, Brett McGurk has informed Iraqi officials that US troops will withdraw from Iraq… ‘step by step’, sources tell me.”. A subsequent tweet was still available, she says in a more subdued tone: “Withdrawal from Iraq will not be like what happened in Afghanistan and it will be step by step. The schedule for this will be agreed during Iraqi PM’s trip to Washington”. A tweet from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Media Office also mentioned “discussing mechanisms for the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq”.

Regardless of the denials, confirmations, and conflicting reports of what actually was discussed, actual withdrawals and handing over of military bases has started more than a year ago, and have accelerated lately, especially with the intensification of direct fires, and there is discussion of a period that does not exceed a few months separating us from complete withdrawal from Iraq.

What about Syria?

The US presence in Syria has been linked to its presence in Iraq from the outset. Initially, the direct US presence was mainly through the global coalition to counter ISIL, thus making it connected with both Iraq and Syria. More importantly, the practical starting point was that the US was already present in Iraq, thus its presence in Syria since 2014 is in one way or another a prolongation to its presence in Iraq, since the supply centers, logistical support lines, and the most fortified points and bases are those in Iraq, and it is not possible in any way for the US presence to continue in Syria in the event of a withdrawal from Iraq. Moreover, we can say that talking about a US withdrawal from Iraq now includes (from at least a military and logistical point of view) talking about the withdrawal from Syria as a foregone conclusion.

When it comes to US withdrawal from Syria, it is very important to understand how the US will withdraw, the timeframes, and against what backgrounds.

In this context, it could be useful to quote from Kassioun Editorial # 1024, titled “Patriotic Syrians’ Wager”, which discussed the US withdrawal logic generally and from Syria specifically. The aforementioned editorial specified what it thinks are three main points of the aims and mechanisms of the US withdrawal process from our region, and they are as follows:

First: Attempting to reach deals that secure for [Washington] the least losses within the withdrawals it is making and will be making in the upcoming period, especially from our region. It is better – from the US point of view – to have in each of these deals a “Juha nail” (an Arabic proverb meaning having an excuse to always keep a foot in the door) that enables the US to return later, when it becomes able to do so (assuming that it will at some point overcome its crisis and general decline).

Second: The withdrawal processes are aimed at concentrating forces towards China, which represents the “greatest danger”.

Third: In the context of the withdrawal processes – which are forced in the historical sense – Washington is trying to make deals with the Russians in particular, within a vain hope that the Russia-China alliance will weaken or at least neutralize Russia in Washington’s conflict with Beijing. This delirious dream of some American analysts has reached the point of talking about the three countries getting to the point where they stand at equal distances from each other.

How will the US leave?

As we have frequently said before, the US will leave behind timebombs and booby traps ready to be detonated when the time is “right” (from its perspective) to set the region on fire without being directly implicated because it will be out of the region by then.

Part of this the US has already started working on, which includes several items, including:

  • Trying to use extremists within the regime and opposition to plant political mines ready to detonate and obstruct progress of the political process (See Editorial #914, 26 May 2019, “Dismantling of the Mines”).
  • Using the extremists themselves and direct agents to influence the shaping of the imminent solution, as much as it is able to do so, where it would be a fragile one that is decomposable and disintegrable.
  • Trying to exploit contradictions at all levels -- local and regional -- like, for example, Kurdish-Kurdish, Kurdish-Arabic, Kurdish-Turkish, Arabic-Persian, etc., in an attempt to implement the recipe of “everyone’s war against everyone”.

The US desires are not a reality that we have to accept or cannot change. If history teaches us anything, it is that the desires of retreating powers in the historical sense are likely to turn into jumbled dreams, but only if the opposing powers, particularly the peoples in concrete situations, find in themselves the energy and determination required for the confrontation.

In the concrete Syrian case and Syrian history, this is conceivable and its possibilities are high, and it requires at this moment deepening the actual sorting between patriotic Syrians from all sides in the face of the thieves and extremists from all sides. The path of this sorting is the socioeconomic issue, which requires a specific and decisive patriotic and democratic stance. All of these require pushing towards the political solution based on UNSC Resolution 2254 and opening the door to a comprehensive radical change in the structure of the existing regime, which is no longer able to perform any of the required tasks in their various dimensions, foremost of which is the task of preserving the country’s continuity, the continuity of its unity, preserving the country’s sovereignty, and ending the multifaceted tragedy of its people.

Within the same sorting process, it is necessary to strengthen the work to bring together and unify the main positions of the patriotic democratic opposition forces, so that they are ready not only to enter into negotiations with the regime, but also to work directly on dismantling the various mines that have been and are being planted by the Americans and the Zionists.

The US withdrawal is only a matter of time, and not a long one. Effectively opening the door to a political solution is also a matter of time, and also not a long time. On the other hand, the actual tasks before the patriots among Syrians are gigantic tasks and require daily work among the people, no matter how tired and exhausted they get. These tasks require continuous daily work, even if it is “boring, monotonous, and bleak”. The major battles, and by implication the revolution, are exactly ahead of us, not behind us.

(Arabic version)