In between rounds at his golf club, on both Saturday and Sunday, President Trump decided that he was done with Syria. He ordered the evacuation of a thousand U.S. Special Forces troops deployed to contain isis, the jihadi movement that still has tens of thousands of members waging an underground insurgency across Syria and Iraq. For five years, the Americans have been the backbone of support—providing air power, intelligence, and strategic advice—for the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurdish-led militia did the actual fighting against isis, losing eleven thousand fighters along the way. It evolved into one of the most important U.S. allies anywhere in the Middle East. More than seventy nations joined the coalition backing the S.D.F., but the United States has been the glue holding it together.
As if on cue, on Sunday, hundreds of families and supporters of the Islamic State escaped from a detention center in Ain Issa, in northeastern Syria. The Kurds reported that the black isis flag was soon erected nearby. “Five years of work—undone,” a U.S. official lamented to me, on Sunday. Trump’s order to withdraw also prevented U.S. forces from being able to transfer about sixty “high-value” isis prisoners from detention centers in the area controlled by the S.D.F., the Times reported.
The area where U.S. troops have been deployed has disintegrated into chaos since Turkey invaded Syria last week—and President Trump opted to do nothing to stop or discourage President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign to destroy U.S. allies in the S.D.F. An estimated hundred and thirty thousand Syrians have fled Turkish air strikes, artillery, and ground operations, according to the United Nations. Hospitals in Kurdish areas in the north have closed. Water is running short.