Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump made a shock decision to not only withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria but also greenlight a Turkish military offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). As the main U.S. military partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, the SDF—a multiethnic but largely Syrian Kurdish militia—lost more than 11,000 of its fighters over almost five years of combat. This colossal strategic blunder has already led to the near-complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, apparent war crimes by Turkish-backed forces, and a deal between the SDF and Russia to allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime back into Syria’s northeast.
With no military or civilian presence on the ground and chaos engulfing northeast Syria, the United States now finds itself unable to safeguard its interests or protect against an Islamic State revival there. Indeed, a renewed and rejuvenated Islamic State now appears to be an all but certain outcome of recent events. High-value prisoners, for instance, have escaped as SDF prisons have come under Turkish attack. Likewise, Syria will remain a center of geopolitical competition among regional rivals and global powers that could easily spiral out of control. Israel and Iran have long squared off in Syria, and now Turkey, the Assad government, and Russia find themselves staring each other down in the northeast.This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.