Trump says Syria is ‘sand and death’ in defence of troop withdrawal

'We’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about vast wealth'

Richard Hall
Thursday 03 January 2019 10:52 GMT
Trump says Syria is ‘sand and death’

US president Donald Trump has defended his decision to withdraw troops from Syria, describing the country as “sand and death.”

In his first public appearance in almost a week amid a government shutdown, Trump said Syria “was lost long ago,” and there was no reason for the US to remain there.

“We’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death,” he said during a televised cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Trump shocked allies and officials within his own administration last month when he ordered a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of the more than 2,000 US troops currently in Syria, declaring victory in the fight against Isis.

The US has been supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters in the battle against Isis since 2014 with airpower, military aid and soldiers on the ground. Together, they have recaptured swathes of land in the country’s north and east from the extremist group, reducing its territory to a string of villages in Deir Ez-Zor.

But Isis remains a potent force, and defence officials had argued for a continued US presence to ensure it does not regroup. Mr Trump’s announcement prompted the resignation of two top officials, Defence Secretary James Mattis and envoy for the anti-Isis coalition, Brett McGurk. Both said a quick withdrawal would leave the US’s Kurdish allies in danger and imperil the fight against Isis when it is not yet done.

Since the announcement, however, Mr Trump appears to have shifted his stance to allow for a slower exit. On Wednesday, he said US troops would leave “slowly”, but did not offer a clear timetable for the withdrawal.

"We're getting out and we're getting out smart. I never said I'm getting out tomorrow," he said. “We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless. We want to protect the Kurds, but I don't want to be in Syria forever.”

Mr Trump’s description of Syria as “sand and death” was met with anger from Syrians.

Lina Sergie Attar, a Syrian-American author, wrote on Twitter: “We are more than sand and death. Much more.”

Rasha Othman‏, also an author, said: “I think Syrians have been dehumanized for too long. ‘Sand and death’ not eliciting any anger from me. Indifference? Is that weird? I’m Syrian.”

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