America’s Allies Refuse Trump’s Request To ‘Fill The Gap’ In Syria

After two years of spitting in their faces, President Trump is finding it hard to get America's European allies to come to his aid.

Despite lobbying from the Administration, America’s allies are declining to fill in the gap that will be left in Syria after American troops withdraw:

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.

For its part, the SDF has appealed for Western nations to keep a force of up to 1,500 in northeast Syria to coordinate air support and back its efforts to hold militants and other adversaries at bay. In anticipation of the departure of some 2,000 U.S. troops, the Kurds are negotiating with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, his primary foreign backer along with Iran.

Russia, meanwhile, has proposed that Assad’s forces simply be allowed to take over the entire area now controlled by the United States and its allies. “No one, including the Kurds and the Turks, thinks the regime coming into the northeast is a good idea,” the senior administration official said.

Trump has long complained that his own top aides and the military were blocking his determination to exit Syria once the Islamic State was defeated. In December, he said that the goal had been achieved and that U.S. troops were leaving “now,” after which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned. Trump subsequently agreed that the departure would be “deliberate and orderly.” The military is planning a full withdrawal by the end of April

But while national security adviser John Bolton, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), and others have told allies that some American troops may remain, those reassurances have not filtered up to the level of a presidential order to the Pentagon.

“I won’t talk to what Sen. Graham or NSA Bolton would like,” a defense official said in an email. “Gen. Votel has been very clear that we are currently focused on executing a full withdrawal from Syria at the order of the president.” Gen. Joseph Votel is the head of the U.S. Central Command in overall charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

U.S. and foreign officials spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive and ongoing diplomatic discussions and military operations.

This reaction from American allies is hardly surprising. For the better part of the past two years, President Trump has spent a considerable amount of time driving a wedge between the United States and its traditional allies in Europe and also calling into question the integrity and resolve of the American commitment to the NATO alliance. He has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the nuclear deal with Iran, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, one of the hallmarks of the end of the Cold War. In addition to the fact that all of these moves and miscues clearly benefit only one man and one motion, they have already sent a message to America’s allies that the United States can’t necessarily be trusted on to stand by its allies. It’s only natural, then, that those same allies would suddenly become less eager to go along with requests from the United States that, in an earlier era. In other words, reactions like this from the Europeans are only natural given the past two years and yet another example of how the United States is already paying the price for the President’s foolish abandonment of traditional allies and cozying up to dictators.

In addition to this, of course, there’s the fact that the Europeans aren’t exactly stupid. They can see as plainly as the rest of us the risks of putting troops on the ground in the middle of a civil war that has more sides than anyone can count, consisting of so-called “moderate” rebels who allegedly don’t ascribe to jihadist views, the more radical jihadists fighters that include ISIS and associated groups on one side and the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah on the other. Putting a force into the middle of all that constitutes a risk that no sane leader should be willing to accept. Additionally, the situation on the ground is complicated by the participation of the Kurds, who in the end care more about consolidating their power over the land they control than they do about toppling Assad, even if that means provoking conflict with Turkey. Finally, the Europeans are likely reading the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out as an admission on the part of the United States that the battle in Syria is essentially over. Given that, why should they risk their own men and women on a mission the United States is abandoning?


FILED UNDER: Europe, Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Eric Florack says:

    blame Trump if you insist, but the fact of the matter is the Europeans haven’t been living up to their responsibilities anyway. They never have, and that’s the problem.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Oh? Which exact responsibilities has Europe failed to live up to? Specifics, please.

  3. The Brits sent troops to fight in Afghanistan. as did many other NATO members. Other nations have seen non-combat forces to assist coalition forces in that fight.

    Your assertion flies in the face of the facts, Eric.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Your assertion flies in the face of the facts, Eric.

    A red hat having trouble with facts…shocking.

  5. KM says:

    Little boy playing at war, trying to run the sandbox according to his fantasy. He’s mad the other kids aren’t playing the way he wants and moving the way he wants. He refuses to admit they’ve given up on him and are playing among themselves, furious they won’t “listen”. And why should they? His game is stupid, he’s a jerk and doesn’t play well with others – they have no reason to not just play around him and watch him stomp his feet as their game takes over the sandbox.

    We all learned this in kindergarten: if you call everyone a stupid-head to their faces, they won’t play with you and you’ll have no friends. Want kids to play with you at recess? Then don’t go alienating the class – turns out you might need them for something you want to do later!

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Your assertion flies in the face of the facts, Eric.

    Another day ending in “Y”.

    Additionally, the situation on the ground is complicated by the participation of the Kurds, who in the end care more about consolidating their power over the land they control than they do about toppling Assad, even if that means provoking conflict with Turkey.

    They have been in conflict with Turkey for decades. The same can be said for Iran, Iraq, and Syria to varying degrees. They want a country to call their own where they won’t be subjected to the prejudices of the powers that be and the forces of violence that come with the status quo.

    A desire I am sympathetic to.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Basically this ass-clown is a Foreign Policy failure.
    In addition to not going along on Syria…the allies essentially laughed at Mike Pence and the idea of walking away from the JPCOA.
    And they are fomenting conflict in Venezuela…the actions by the US are making the situation there worse not better.
    Dennison is basically giving up and conceding that NoKo is a nuclear power.
    And now Individual-1 is postponing tariffs on China…after pushing many American soybean farmers into bankruptcy.
    So much winning…I’m bored with all the winning.

  8. Slugger says:

    The war in Syria has produced millions of refugees. People tend to flee when getting bombed, you know. Significant numbers of these people have tried to get into Europe. The Europeans may think that any prolongation of the conflict will add to the refugee problem. Any American politician who favors European involvement there should demonstrate their good will by accepting a few thousand Syrian refugees.
    Mr. Florack, how many can we send to your home state?

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    If we really wanted to remake the middle east we’d back the Kurds, set them up with a homeland and arm them to the teeth, make them a second Israel. Unfortunately there is a wee bit of a map problem: hard to see how anything reached ‘Kurdistan’ without cooperation from Iraq, Iran, Syria or Turkey. ‘Kurdistan’ would need to forge strong, permanent ties with at least one of the above, and I’m not seeing how that happens.

  10. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    At this point it would be cheaper, and easier, to develop a time machine and arrange a different post-WWI partition of the Middle East.

  11. Eric Florack says:

    @Michael Reynolds:


    NATO guidelines encourage all members to spend 2 percent of their respective country’s GDP on their own military defense, so that each member can defend itself to a certain degree without relying too often on pooled NATO forces and equipment. In 2014, NATO leaders came to an agreement that members who spend under that 2 percent benchmark are to work towards reaching that goal within a decade.

    Currently, only the United States, Greece, Great Britain, Estonia and Poland have spent an average of 2 percent of GDP on their own defenses


  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Yeah, but the post WWI partition accomplished the limited vision of what Europeans wanted to do at the time. Is it their fault that they didn’t consider how they would handle it when they decided they didn’t want endless Middle East conflict? I mean why would they have taken, for example, Ho Chi Minh’s word about that? What could HE possibly have known about running empires?

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    After two years of spitting in their faces, President Trump is finding it hard to get America’s European allies to come to his aid.

    Well who had any idea they would be so thin skinned? Gawd. You tell a couple of allies to eat sh!t and die and they get all huffy and take it personal. Doesn’t anyone have a sense of humor any more?

  14. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Well, in 1918, there was little appetite for Communism worldwide, and a lack of desire to imitate the USSR. Messrs. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford would have been spared a domino.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Yeah, that’s what I figured you’d come up with. Want to explain WTF NATO contributions have to do with Iraq? Afghanistan? Right, they don’t, because neither is NATO. In fact they represent wars where our friends voluntarily stepped forward to help us on our crusades. And in return they get dumped on by ignoramuses like you.

  16. al Ameda says:

    @Eric Florack:

    blame Trump if you insist, but the fact of the matter is the Europeans haven’t been living up to their responsibilities anyway. They never have, and that’s the problem.

    That is a very uninformed opinion, unfortunately, one which is shared by uninformed conservatives across the country.
    For ‘fricken example: Germany provides us with military bases which are extremely important to our strategic interests well beyond Europe and into the Near East and Middle East.