The United States will leave some 200 peacekeeping troops in Syria after US forces pull out of the country, the White House said Thursday.
“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.
It is unclear exactly how long those troops will be in Syria.
The decision was announced after President Donald Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone. A White House statement said the two leaders will “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”
In December, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from the war-torn country, citing the defeat of ISIS.
The decision drew sharp criticism from foreign policy experts.
The Islamic State has lost nearly all of its territory and is currently fighting to cling to a strip of land in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz. However, the Pentagon warned last month that ISIS could regain territory in Syria in just six to 12 months.
The withdrawal has sparked a geopolitical tug of war between Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. All of them are vying for valuable real estate in Syria once the US leaves.
Israeli officials have warned that an absent America would pave the way for Tehran to create a “land bridge” through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.
Religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians and Kurds are also left especially vulnerable with the United States’ absence in the region.
“The people in this area are very frightened by the decision of the American pullout because a lot of countries and militias are coveting the region east of the Euphrates to replace the Americans: Russia, the Assad regime, Iran and Turkey or the Nasra Front that have declared publicly that they will support Turkey on their attack of the east of the Euphrates,” Amina Omer, co-chair of the Council of Democratic Syria, told CBN News
Meanwhile, a new government is being formed in northeast Syria in an effort to bring equal rights and religious freedom to the country.
“We have a political system that was based on a social contract between all the groups – Arabs, Kurds, Syriac Christians – and this social contract they articulated it how they wanted to live together as diverse ethnicities and diverse religions,” Bassam Ishak, President of the Syrian Democratic Council, told CBN News.
Bassam Ishak is seeking support from US leaders for this new government. He calls it a golden opportunity.
“I don’t think ever any political system exists in the Middle East to guarantee religious freedom. You go back hundreds and thousands of years. This has not happened,” Ishak said.
Yet, in order for this new democratic government to survive, Ishak says Syria’s minorities need the United States.