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US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull all American troops out of Syria and reduce by half the US forces in Afghanistan marks the end of a prolonged phase of American military interventions in the Middle East and South Asia

This has predictably upset both the Washington establishment and America’s global allies

Reasons for exit

  • US president claims that the physical infrastructure of the IS caliphate is destroyed and the U.S. can leave the war against the remnants of the jihadist group to the Syrian government and its main backers, Russia and Iran
  • The caliphate is actually destroyed — the IS has lost 95% of the territory it once controlled and is now confined to narrow pockets on the Iraqi-Syrian border
  • The U.S. would also not like to get stuck in Syria forever. It is basically Russia’s war
  • The U.S. is already stranded in Afghanistan (for 17 years) and Iraq (over 15 years) without a way out

Geopolitics at play

  • As America’s internal tussle on its external trajectory makes Washington an unpredictable factor in international politics, the rest of the world has no option but to factor it into their own geopolitical calculus
  • The U.S. has only 2,000 troops in Syria
  • They were not directly involved in the ground battle and were supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, a rebel group led by Kurdish rebels who were in the forefront of the fight against the IS
  • The U.S. support for the Kurdish rebels has irked Turkey, which sees them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the rebels on the Turkish side who have been fighting Turkish troops for decades
  • Turkey considers the military consolidation of Kurds as a strategic threat
  • In the past, Turkey had attacked Kurds in some pockets on the Syrian side but was prevented from launching a full-throttle attack because of the U.S. presence

Impact on India

  • Trump’s move will undermine the war against the Islamic State, help legitimise the Syrian ruler Bashar al Assad, and boost his backers in Moscow and Tehran
  • In Afghanistan, the decision to downsize troop presence comes at a moment when Washington has embarked on direct talks with the Taliban brokered by Pakistan
  • If the president does not change his mind, Delhi will have to take into account the consequences for India’s western neighbourhood, especially in Afghanistan where Washington has been fighting the longest war in American history

Way forward

Insofar as Delhi is concerned, it must start preparing for the inevitable geopolitical turbulence, including the resurgence of the Islamic State and the potential return of the Taliban to power in Kabul, that could follow the American retrenchment in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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