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Trump confirms near-total Syria withdrawal while warning of costs for Turkey

Trump and Erdogan in 2017. Photo: Brenadan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has confirmed that nearly all U.S. troops in Syria will be leaving the country while warning Turkey of repercussions for its offensive against Kurdish forces who had been key U.S. allies.

  • In a lengthy statement, Trump said the U.S. forces leaving Syria will remain in the region to guard against an ISIS resurgence. He also announced a suspension of trade talks with Turkey, a hike in steel tariffs to 50%, and potential "powerful additional sanctions" against those guilty of "serious human rights abuses."

Why it matters: Trump insists he didn't give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "green light" last week to attack America's Kurdish allies, but his withdrawal of U.S. special forces from the Syria-Turkey border was certainly read that way by both Erdogan and by the Kurds.

  • Erdogan considers the Kurdish forces a terror threat on his border. Facing an onslaught, the Kurds quickly struck a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers, reshaping the conflict in Syria in the span of just a few days.
  • The steps by Trump and Erdogan provoked bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill, where sanctions against Turkey are currently being prepared.
  • Trump turned against Erdogan's invasion after it began, and he is now preempting those looming sanctions with steps of his own.
  • He said only a "small footprint" of U.S. forces would remain in southern Syria, while the northeast of the country would be abandoned entirely.

The big picture: “Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State,” the NYT’s David Sanger writes.

Go deeper: Behind the scenes on Trump's Syria exit