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Macron slams Trump on Syria: 'An ally should be dependable'

Key Points
  • French President Emmanuel Macron chastised his American counterpart, calling out President Donald Trump's shock decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.
  • Trump first made the announcement via Twitter last Wednesday in a move that blindsided lawmakers and officials and drew strong opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.
  • "I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria," Macron said while at a press conference in Chad.
French President Emmanuel Macron
Gonzalo Fuentes | AFP | Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron chastised his American counterpart, calling out President Donald Trump's shock decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.

Trump first made the announcement via Twitter last Wednesday in a move that blindsided lawmakers and officials and drew strong opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.

"I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria," Macron said while at a press conference in Chad on Sunday.

"To be allies is to fight shoulder to shoulder. It's the most important thing for a head of state and head of the military. An ally should be dependable," he said, according to Reuters.

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Macron was referring to the local forces that Washington has supported since it first entered Syria's nearly eight-year long civil war in 2015. Roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, including special forces, work in partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an amalgamation of Arab and Kurdish militias that do most of the fighting against the so-called Islamic State (IS) on the ground while the U.S. provides training, weaponry and air support.

Of the SDF, the Syrian Kurdish militia fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have been described by the Pentagon as the most effective partner in driving IS out of the region, and have lost thousands of fighters since the counter-IS offensive began in 2014.

Now, those forces will be left on their own to combat what remains of IS — and national security experts warn that without the U.S. presence, the Islamic extremist group will see a resurgence.

What's more, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening an imminent invasion of Kurdish-held territories in northern Syria. Ankara sees the YPG as intimately tied to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a designated terrorist group that's led a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Erdogan has amassed Turkish troops along the Turkish-Syrian border and is threatening to "cleanse" the area of "terrorists," a move the Pentagon has repeatedly called unacceptable.

Experts now fear that a Turkish offensive will force the Kurdish militias to abandon their counter-IS efforts in order to focus on defending themselves from the Turks. YPG forces are reportedly already digging ditches and trenches in preparation for a Turkish onslaught. On hearing those reports, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Thursday, "they will be buried in their ditches when the time comes."

Trump, defending his decision via Twitter, said on Monday: "President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria....and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right "next door.'"

The president wrote earlier that "allies are very important — but not when they take advantage of U.S."

Trump's backers, meanwhile, see his move as a campaign promise kept. Many others support the decision as a means of ending a Middle Eastern military engagement they say had no endgame and no defined outcome.

"Americans have to be realistic. The problems of ISIS and the Syrian Kurds are not going be settled by 2,000 American special forces," former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told NPR on Friday. "ISIS is smaller, it can be managed by Syrians, and it should be managed by Syrians."

'Something we never expected'

Many Kurds have expressed a sense of betrayal at the U.S. move.

"This was something we never expected," General Mazloum Abdi, the Kurdish commander of the SDF, told the Washington Post on Saturday. "Honestly, until now, everything the Americans told us, they fulfilled, and the same thing for us … So we were surprised and confused. We were not ready for a decision like this."

So controversial was Trump's policy flip that it reportedly prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the U.S. envoy to the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk. McGurk, a veteran of three presidential administrations, was seen by many as the glue holding the sprawling 79-country coalition together.

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Just days before the Syria announcement, McGurk spoke to CNBC while at the Doha Forum in Qatar and emphasized the importance of America's local partners in the counter-IS mission.

"In Iraq and Syria, by working with local fighters, particularly the Iraqi security forces and SDF, we've basically taken all that territory that ISIS used to control. It's now down to 1 percent."

But the fight needed to be maintained, McGurk emphasized. "Just because you defeat the physical space does not mean it's the end of ISIS ... We've made very clear we have to finish this conventional military campaign against the caliphate, and we're really within the final stages of that."

"We have to remain together as a global coalition to keep the pressure on," he added.