The notoriously mercurial Trump has actually been consistent on Syria: he wants to capture all the territory of Islamic State (ISIS) and leave. Trump administration officials managed to avert a pull-out early last year, and they seem to have done it again. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames the “deep state” for frustrating Trump. Trump may agree.
Trump had indicated that, post-withdrawal, Turkey would carve out a buffer zone in northeast Syria. This zone would cut into territory held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia backed by the United States in the fight against ISIS. Turkey says the YPG is tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a war for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.
The first signs of reversal came in the first week of January, when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and ultimately Trump all said U.S. forces would stay until Washington was sure the YPG would not come under attack. By late January, the notion of a Turkish safe zone had morphed into a buffer zone against Turkey.
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