Turkey Welcomes U.S. Pullout From Syria as Russia Expresses Confusion

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FILE PHOTO: U.S troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah province, Afghanistan May 19, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: U.S troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah province, Afghanistan May 19, 2018. Credit: James Mackenzie/Reuters

The Kremlin said on Friday that it did not understand what the United States' next steps in Syria would be, and that chaotic and unpredictable decision-making was creating discomfort in international affairs. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow wanted more information about the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, announced unexpectedly by U.S. President Donald Trump this week.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusgolu, in contrast, welcomed Washington's decision and said it should coordinate with Ankara on the pullout. 

>> Read more: Trump and Obama may be complete opposites — but their Syria policies are nearly identical ■ Trump pulling out of Syria. Might Afghanistan be next? ■ Washington is an ally, but only to a point

Commenting on a possible U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Peskov said he does not want anything to happen that could destabilize the situation there. Peskov also said the Kremlin needed to watch whether the withdrawal would actually happen as a previous U.S. pledge to leave Afghanistan had not translated into action. 

Afghan officials and America's Western partners also reacted with unease to reports that the U.S. planned to withdraw more than 5,000 of its 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.

Although there has been increasing acceptance in Kabul that Trump was impatient for progress in ending the 17-year war, comment from a U.S. official that he was planning to withdraw at least 5,000 troops, coupled with the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, came as a surprise. 

Mattis has been widely seen in Afghanistan as a guarantor of U.S. engagement, and his departure would inevitability raise worries in the minds of many Afghan officials. 

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad meet in Kabul, Afghanistan, November 10, 2018. Credit: Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

The news followed a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi between U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives at which the two sides discussed the withdrawal of international forces and a ceasefire in 2019. 

However, with the plans still unconfirmed and further meetings expected in Saudi Arabia in early January, it was unclear whether a ceasefire was close and whether the news heralded a wider settlement. 

"The withdrawal will certainly affect overall operations but we will have to wait and see which units are going to go home first. It is too early to say anything for now," said a senior Afghan government official. 

"Depending on how the Taliban react, the government might ask forces to reduce operations," he said. 

But Haroon Chakansuri, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said the withdrawal would not affect overall security because the role of U.S. forces has been to assist and advise Afghan troops. 

The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, and a separate U.S. counter-terrorism mission largely directed against militant groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaida. 

In addition, some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries in Resolute Support provide training and support for Afghan forces. 

The Taliban are fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the Western-backed Kabul government. 

With the insurgents in control of large stretches of the country and chronically understrength Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a month, even a partial U.S. withdrawal could reduce the incentive of the Taliban to strike a deal and erode the willingness of Afghan troops to fight. 

"We all know the morale of the Afghan forces has hit an all-time low, they are under-equipped, poorly paid and they lack coordination. We train them to the best of our abilities," said a Western diplomat from a Resolute Support member. 

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