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Syria
January 11, 2019

Early Friday, a Pentagon spokesman said that the U.S. has begun withdrawing its 2,000 troops from Syria, just days after National Security Adviser John Bolton said President Trump's withdrawal plan was contingent on certain objectives being met, suggesting a longer time frame. Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, said the U.S. has "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria," and there will be no further information about "specific timelines, locations, or troop movements."

The U.S. and its Kurdish allies have slowly pushed back ISIS, and Syria, Russia, Iran, and Turkey all want the oil-rich quarter of Syria now under U.S. control. Turkey has amassed troops on the border specifically to attack the Kurds. Peter Weber

December 20, 2018

President Trump's decision Wednesday to pull America's 2,000 troops out of Syria "overrode his top national security aides, blindsided U.S. ground commanders, and stunned lawmakers and allies," Reuters reports. Trump's tweeted announcement, criticized by many congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, is widely seen as a boon for Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria's government, and an ominous decision for Israel and America's Kurdish allies.

These perceptions are borne out in how various groups responded to Trump's unexpected announcement. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Trump's decision, saying in his annual address that "if the U.S. decided to withdraw its contingent, it has done the right thing." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the many Republicans slamming Trump over his decision, noted wryly that Russia was one of the few parties cheering the news.

Syrian lawmaker Peter Marjana characterized Trump's move as a "recognition that Syria has won." The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, America's most reliable and effective allies in battling the Islamic State in Syria, said Thursday that a U.S. pullout would be dangerous because "the war against Islamic State has not ended and the group has not been defeated." Other Kurdish commentators were more blunt. Asli Aydintasbas at the European Council for Foreign Relations said Trump was on the "verge of another historic betrayal of the Kurds."

Trump defended his decision by claiming that ISIS has been defeated, but experts and the U.S. military disagree, saying ISIS is gathering strength in some regions. France, which has about 1,000 troops in Syria, said it plans to stay because of the continued threat from ISIS. Still, one French diplomat told Reuters, "if this turns out to be as bad as it sounds, then it's a serious problem for us and the British because operationally the coalition doesn't work without the U.S." Peter Weber

September 8, 2018

The Pentagon has prepared options for a military response should Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime again deploy chemical weapons, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Saturday.

"We are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used," Dunford said, adding that President Trump "expects us to have military options."

Meanwhile, in southern Syria, U.S. troops conducted a live-fire aerial assault exercise on Friday, using the practice bombing to warn away Assad regime forces and their Russian allies from an American base near the Syria-Iraq border.

"The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria, or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war," said Lt. Col. Earl Brown of the exercises on behalf of U.S. Central Command. "However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., coalition, or partner forces." Bonnie Kristian

April 13, 2018

The U.S. launched a series of strikes in Syria, targeting chemical weapons facilities and a research center using both aircrafts and ships, President Trump announced Friday night.

The military attack was ordered in coordination with France and the U.K., in response to what the U.S. believes was a chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week. The Syrian government is accused of deploying chemical weapons against civilians in eastern Ghouta, which reportedly killed dozens of people and affected hundreds more.

"The purpose of our action tonight is to establish a strong deterrent" against the use of chemical weapons, Trump said in a statement. He said that the strikes would continue until "the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." Trump denounced the "evil and despicable attack," calling it a crime fit for "a monster." He ordered the strikes without the approval of Congress, The New York Times reports.

Trump additionally addressed Russia and Iran in his statement, two nations that back the Syrian government. "Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully someday we'll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not," Trump said. Both Syria and Russia have denied involvement in the attack, and Russia claimed on Friday that the event was "staged" by the U.K.

Syrian state media reported that the Syrian military responded to "American aggression," and began shooting down missiles as they targeted a research center in Damascus, CNN reports. Defense Secretary James Mattis did not confirm the Syrian response, and told reporters that there were no reports of losses to the U.S. Summer Meza

March 31, 2018

President Trump on Friday froze $200 million in aid funding for Syria, The Wall Street Journal reports, an allocation recently announced by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The move came one day after Trump said the U.S. would end its military presence in Syria in the near future. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon," the president said Thursday. "Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we're coming out," he continued. "We're going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be."

Two unnamed senior administration officials told Reuters for a Friday report the president has made similar comments in private, indicating he wants to end American intervention in Syria now that the Islamic State, the United States' primary focus in the country, controls just 5 percent of the Syrian territory it once held.

Critics of the withdrawal proposal want the U.S. to stay in Syria long-term, attempting to shape the outcome of the civil war. The embattled Bashar al-Assad regime is backed by Iran and Russia, while the U.S. has supported Syrian rebels seeking to oust Assad. Bonnie Kristian

January 17, 2018

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that 2,000 U.S. troops will remain in Syria, as there are "strategic threats" to the United States there beyond the Islamic State.

"Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria," Tillerson said at Stanford University. "Through its position in Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking U.S. interests, allies, and personnel in the region." U.S. troops were sent to northeastern Syria to assist Kurdish fighters battling ISIS militants, and although ISIS now has just a small presence in the country, Tillerson said there's concern of a revival. "We cannot repeat the mistake of 2011, where a premature departure from Iraq allowed al Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually become ISIS," he said.

Tillerson also said the U.S. continues to push for a peace deal in the country that would exclude Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Catherine Garcia

April 25, 2016

President Obama is sending 250 more U.S. military personnel to combat the Islamic State in Syria, bringing the total U.S. military force in the war-torn country to about 300, according to U.S. officials. Obama will announce the new deployment Monday morning in Hanover, Germany. When Obama sent the first 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria last year, officials described the move as a counterterrorism operation, and the increase is being explained as an effort to assist local forces as they chip away at ISIS territory.

A major focus of the new deployment "will be trying to get more Sunni Arabs to join the fight alongside Kurdish units in northeastern Syria," The Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. has relied heavily on the Kurdish forces so far, but the Obama administration believes Sunni Arabs will need to get more involved to pry ISIS from Arab enclaves surrounding Raqqa, the de facto ISIS headquarters. The U.S. personnel won't directly engage in combat, but they will be close to the front lines, and the ultimate goal will be assisting and guiding Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces to take Raqqa, CNN reports, noting that that battle will likely be long and difficult. You can learn more in the CNN report below. Peter Weber

January 24, 2016

Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Saturday about the countries' shared goal of stopping the Islamic State in Syria, Agence France-Presse reports.

On the ongoing attempt at a political resolution to Syria's five-year civil war, Biden said: "We are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We are determined." Biden went onto suggest a "military solution" for Syria is on the table, should political means fail.

Biden also condemned Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party as a terrorist group, likening their actions to those of ISIS. Julie Kliegman

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