When Sen. Lindsay Graham said Monday, Dec. 31: “I think we are slowing things [exit from Syria] down in a smart way,” he confirmed DEBKAfile’s Dec. 22 report: “US troops will leave eastern and northern Syria, but America is not deserting this part of the country and will continue to maintain a presence after the pullout.” On Monday, the Republican Senator, who sharply criticized President Donald Trump for the troop withdrawal as a “huge Obama-like mistake,” stated: “The president assured me he is going to make sure he gets the job done.”
Our sources can now reveal the nature of that presence and the process afoot for the gradual US withdrawal. In the last few days, Egyptian and UAE military officers visited the contested north Syrian town of Manbij. They toured the town and its outskirts, checked out the locations of US and Kurdish YPG militia positions, and took notes on how to deploy their own troops as replacements. On the diplomatic side, the White House is in continuous conversation with the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammed Bin Ziyad (MbZ) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. The deal Trump is offering, is that they take over US positions in Manbij, where the Kurds have sought protection against a Turkish invasion, and American air cover will be assured against Russian, Syrian or Turkish attack.
As DEBKAfile has noted, the Egyptian president, during his four years in power, was the only Arab leader to consistently side with Bashar Assad against the insurgency against his regime. Assad may therefore accept the posting of Egyptian forces in Manbij so long as Syrian officers are attached to their units. The Syrian president would likely also favor a UAE military presence. Not only was the emirate the first Arab nation to reopen its embassy in Damascus after long years of Arab boycott, but unlike most of its Arab League colleagues, the UAE can well afford to contribute funding for the colossal reconstruction task needed for getting the war-devastated country on its feet.
Approval of the Egyptian-UAE forces to Manbij would kick off the stationing of mixed Arab forces in other parts of Syria, including the border with Iraq. If the Trump administration’s plans mature, then countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria would send troops to push the Iranian military presence out of key areas where they have taken hold.
After being briefed on this plan by the president, Sen. Graham made this satisfied comment: “I think we’re in a pause situation where we are re-evaluating what’s the best way to achieve the president’s objective of having people pay more and do more.”
The coming DEBKA Weekly out next Friday, Jan. 4, reveals exclusively – and in full detail – the plans for northeastern Syria that are taking shape in Washington and other world capitals to prepare for phasing out the US military presence. And who are the prime movers? If you are not already a subscriber, click here.