As the deadline approaches for the withdrawal of U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, America’s closest European allies have turned down a Trump administration request to fill the gap with their own troops, according to U.S. and foreign officials.
Allies have “unanimously” told the United States that they “won’t stay if you pull out,” a senior administration official said. France and Britain are the only other countries with troops on the ground in the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State.
Along with the United States, they have provided training, supplies, logistics and intelligence for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-dominated group that has done most of the fighting. U.S., French and British forces also operate heavy artillery and conduct the airstrikes that have been decisive against the militants.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that he was mystified by Trump’s policy. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that “there is no prospect of British forces replacing the Americans” in Syria.
European refusal to stay unless President Trump reverses at least part of his troop withdrawal order is one of several factors that U.S. military officials, lawmakers and senior administration officials have said should make Trump think again.
Their concerns coincide with the administration’s failure, so far, to reach an agreement with Turkey not to attack the SDF, which it says is a terrorist group. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the Turkish military, massed at the border, is prepared to move into northeast Syria once the Americans leave.
One of the principal requests the administration has made of the allies — including Germany, which has no forces in Syria — is to form an “observer” force to patrol a 20-mile-wide “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border, separating Turkey from the Syrian Kurds.
Officials in Ankara said Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, and its military chief of staff will travel to Washington on Thursday to discuss Syria and other regional matters with acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan.