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Trump rebuked by Macron over Syria troop withdrawal: ‘An ally should be dependable’

‘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,’ Mr Macron says

Chris Stevenson
New York
Sunday 23 December 2018 16:15 GMT
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'They're all coming back and they're coming back now' Trump declares victory over Isis in Syria

Emmanuel Macron has hit out at Donald Trump’s decision to withdrawal US troops from the conflict in Syria, saying “an ally should be dependable”.

The French president said that he “deeply regretted” the decision to abruptly change a pillar of US foreign policy in the region by bringing home the 2,000 troops.

Mr Trump’s decision, announced on Wednesday, has alarmed US allies both in the Middle East and Europe with the president having declared victory over the jihadi group Isis.

Both US defence secretary James Mattis and the US envoy to the coalition fighting Isis, Brett McGurk, have resigned in the wake of the move.

“I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria,” Mr Macron said during a news conference in Chad.

“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,” he said. “An ally should be dependable.”

Mr Mattis had said in his resignation letter that the president needed a defence secretary whose views “better aligned” with his own. Mr Mattis also reiterated that America should use all the alliances at its disposal – including Nato – to ensure America is kept safe.

Mr McGurk described Mr Trump’s decision as a “shock” with experienced national security personnel having made clear that while Isis had been significantly weakened, they could still pose a threat.

Only 11 days ago, Mr McGurk had said it would be “reckless” to consider Isis defeated and therefore would be unwise to bring American forces home.

Mr McGurk, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama in 2015, has decided to speed up his original plan to leave the Trump administration in February.

“The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy,” he said in an email to his staff viewed by The Associated Press.

Mr Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal “left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered with no plan in place or even considered thought as to consequences,” the email went on.

Mr Trump and the White House have sought to play down the departure of Mr McGurk amid mounting international unease. The president tweeted on Saturday night: “I do not know” the envoy. He added that it was a “nothing event” and called Mr McGurk a “grandstander”.

Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning: “I have no idea who that person is. Never heard of him... until yesterday”.

In his press conference on Sunday, Mr Macron pointed out the debt the international coalition owes to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have captured large parts of northern and eastern Syria from Isis with support from the US and other partners.

“I call on everyone... not to forget what we owe them,” Mr Macron said.

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With the US withdrawal, the Kurdish-led forces fear military action by Turkey, with its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan having vowed to take out the SDF, whom Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within its borders.

On Sunday, it was reported by local media and a war monitoring group that Turkey is amassing troops near a town in northern Syria held by the SDF. The build-up comes despite recent promises by Turkey to postpone an offensive into northern Syria in the wake of the US troop withdrawal decision.

Turkey already has troops in northwestern Syria and has backed Syrian fighters there to clear towns and villages of Isis militants and Kurdish fighters.

The Turkish IHA news agency reported a commando unit of troops had been sent into Syria overnight. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the reinforcements, numbering dozens of vehicles, were sent to the frontline with Manbij, where US troops have been based.

Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday afternoon that he spoken by phone with Mr Erdogan claiming they discussed “Isis, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area”.

The spokesman for the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, Sharfan Darwish, said Turkish reinforcements have arrived in the area. “We are taking necessary measures to defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said.

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