Middle East Politics & Diplomacy Security & Defense Syria
Issue Brief March 18, 2022

THE DAY AFTER: Anticipating trouble in the event of a US withdrawal from Syria

By Jomana Qaddour

With approximately nine hundred troops in northeastern and southeastern Syria, the United States ostensibly aims to prevent the reemergence of the Islamic State group (IS). The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, initiated by the Trump administration and completed by the Biden administration, was followed by the rapid collapse of the pro-Western government of Afghanistan and its replacement by the Taliban. This has led to questions about what will happen if and when US forces withdraw from northeastern Syria. A new issue brief by Atlantic Council’s Senior Fellow Jomana Qaddour examines the social, political, and economic implications and the challenges to US presence in Syria.

While the US military presence remains limited in number, this report also underscores how aggregate US influence is much more potent than a force number of nine hundred suggests. US troop presence has enhanced counterterrorism operations, obstructed IS and Iranian smuggling routes, and facilitated humanitarian aid and economic benefits to a population in Syria that would be languishing under even more dire conditions. It can be argued that it has also limited local violence and halted a resurgence of public IS activities. 

According to the most recent Syria policy review, US presence is limited to the goal of counterterrorism operations, which implies that it is a conditions-based, not calendar-based deployment. Those conditions should include local Syrian forces that can reasonably deny IS a safe haven from which to plot terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. It is well known that the Assad regime is not likely to provide the necessary capability to assure the United States and its allies that it can prevent IS’s return. In reality, there is little room to positively read the reassertion of Syrian government control over northeastern Syria; and withdrawal from Syria would be a serious gamble for US national security concerns in Syria and the region. Click here to read the full report.

For media inquiries, please contact press@atlanticcouncil.org.

Image: Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho