President Trump indicated that a decision on the future of US policy in Syria is coming soon in remarks made at a press conference with his Polish counterpart.
Speaking alongside President Andrzej Duda, Trump said the Monday night downing of a Russian maritime surveillance plane by accidental Syrian friendly fire was “a very sad thing”. Trump’s remarks did not include criticism of Putin, and seemed to signal regret over Monday night’s dramatic escalation over Syria after a massive Israeli attack.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Russia had pointed the finger at Israel for purposefully provoking the mishap, something Israel has since denied in a military statement that ultimately put blame on Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah.
Trump also said that the US fight against ISIS in Syria could end soon: “We’re very close to being finished with that job,” he said of the Pentagon mission against ISIS.
He followed with: “And then we’re going to make a determination as to what we’re going to do.”
This follows a major Washington Post story two weeks ago, quoting administration insiders, that described a significant policy shift away from Trump’s previously voiced desire to “bring to the troops home” from Syria.
Trump calls downed Russian plane by Bashar al-Assad’s forces a “very sad thing.”
Adds U.S. is “very close to being finished with” fight against ISIS, “and then we’re going to make a determination as to what we’re going to do.” https://t.co/TAt6qG22H5
— Roll Call (@rollcall) September 18, 2018
Only months ago the president expressed a desire “to get out” and pull the over 2,000 publicly acknowledged American military personnel from the country; but the new report said that Trump has approved “an indefinite military and diplomatic effort in Syria”.
The report revealed that “the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.”
But is it possible that Monday’s attack involving missiles flying over the Mediterranean and an “accidental” downing of a Russian plane and 15 dead Russian crew members might have jolted Trump back to his prior position of wanting to withdraw from the Syrian quagmire?
Monday’s events also came just after Russian President Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that a demilitarized zone in Idlib will be formed by October 15. As part of the deal Russia and Syria have reportedly called off the major offensive on Idlib, as Turkey has vowed to facilitate the withdrawal of the al-Qaeda groups in control of Idlib to Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border.
The Russia-Turkey deal over Idlib has at least temporarily deflated US threats that it could intervene should Syria launch a brutal assault on the province —something the US promised to do especially if chemical weapons are used.
Is it possible that Trump will take the window of opportunity to get out of Syria, and walk back from prior US threats?