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Jordan ‘capable of deterring threats’ after US withdrawal from Syria

By Mohammad Ghazal - Dec 20,2018 - Last updated at Dec 20,2018

In this file photo taken on March 05, 2017, a convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij (AFP photo)

AMMAN — The withdrawal of US forces from Syria is a cause for concern to Jordan, experts and analysts said on Thursday, citing that their absence would leave the door open for an increased presence of Iranian militias, but maintained that the Kingdom is “capable of deterring any threats”.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement that US forces will be pulled from Syria was seen as “expected” by some, as Trump is seeking to win the hearts and minds of US voters, while others deemed it as a “very serious” move that would negatively affect allies and make room for the reemergence of terrorists in the war-stricken country.

On Wednesday, Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American ground troops from Syria within 30 days, which experts labelled as a “reckless” decision that casts doubt about the US’ commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East and curbing Iran’s influence in the region.

The move, however, will have no effect on Jordan’s relationship with the US, an embassy official affirmed.

“Our people and governments have a historic and deep strategic relationship that spans decades and different administrations. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, but in the world as a whole,” Jim Barnhart, chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Amman told The Jordan Times on Thursday.

The experts argued that Trump’s decision was based on his belief that Daesh was defeated, which might be true, but does not negate the fact that the ideology of the terrorist organisation remains a threat.

“We have won against ISIS,” Trump said in a video posted on Wednesday on Twitter, using an alternative acronym for the Daesh terror group, adding: “Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”

The decision is “abrupt and chaotic”, one pundit said, as Daesh still retains some areas near the Syrian-Iraqi border and has around 20,000 to 30,000 members.

“The move has a direct impact on the US’ Kurdish allies, but the withdrawal will also give Iran and its militias in Syria more freedom to interfere and fulfil their objectives,” retired major general and strategic analyst, Adeeb Sarayreh, told The Jordan Times.

“The withdrawal serves Iran as well as terrorists and those with dark ideologies, although the reemergence of the terrorist activities, should it happen, would be very limited as the terrorist group is militarily defeated,” Sarayreh added.

A White House statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times on Thursday stated: “Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate.”

The statement noted however that these victories over Daesh in Syria do not signal the end of the global coalition against terrorism, of which both Jordan and the US are members, or the coalition’s campaign. 

“We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” the statement said.

“The United States and our allies stand ready to reengage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support and any means of infiltrating our borders,” it White House added.

For Jordan, the withdrawal is a “limited” source of concern, according to Sarayreh.

“Jordan is capable of deterring any threat and is capable of protecting its borders and safeguarding its security,” the analyst said.

For Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and a military analyst, Trump’s decision was “dangerous”.

“Iranian militias are present in the south of Syria and other areas and the US move will increase their influence, which means increased pressure on Jordan,” Dweiri said.

The withdrawal will enable Iran to execute its scheme by having control over routes between Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon, he said.

“Jordan is capable of standing up to any threat, but certainly, it needs to be more vigilant and on alert,” Dweiri told The Jordan Times.

The US move is partially meant to win the support of American voters, but is also a sign of declining US interest in the Middle East, Jamal Al Shalabi, a professor of Political Science at the Hashemite University, said on Thursday.

“Trump wants to send a message to the American voters that he is fulfilling his promise of placing America first by showing that he is focusing on the domestic issues in the US and that he will bring the US soldiers back home as promised in his electoral campaign,” he told The Jordan Times.

“I believe this is a tactical, rather than a strategic, decision and even if some terrorist activities reemerge they will be very limited, as Syria controls almost all of the country now and there is cooperation with Iraq and the Russians,” said Shalabi.

“I expect more coordination between Jordan and Russia… dormant cells will always remain, but their impact is very minimal,” Shalabi added.

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