Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards
Members of Iran's Revolutionary GuardsReuters

Incidents in both northern and eastern Syria make clear that the Russian-Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition is trying to use the increasing chaos to conquer more territory.

Almost two weeks after he suddenly announced US troops would withdraw from Syria President Donald Trump gives the impression he’s back-pedaling somewhat on his decision.

The President now says the withdrawal would not be a “rush out” of Syria.

After a meeting with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C in the White House this weekend Trump was asked what he thought about what was discussed there.

"Well, I don’t think too much, except that I said, you know, I never said that I'm gonna rush out,” The President said, adding he was still determined to bring the troops home.

Graham was apparently not the only one who criticized Trump for withdrawing the U.S. military from Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu apparently did the same.

During a telephone call on December 2018, Netanyahu reportedly asked the President for a phased withdrawal “implemented over a lengthy period of time.”

Trump’s decision to pull the US military out of Syria has already led to the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the war against ISIS who warned the State Department was facing “extremely difficult circumstances”.

In a farewell Tweet McGurk wrote “I wish my former civilian and military colleagues well as they work under extremely difficult circumstances to protect the interests of our great country.”

Another high-ranking Trump official who resigned over Trump’s sudden decision was John Kelly, the Chief of Staff of the White House.

Trump also came under fire from former generals of the US army who warned that the intended withdrawal of US Special Forces from Syria would increase instability in the country.

Their criticism was apparently too much for Trump who at the beginning of his term delegated important decisions to his military brass in both Syria and Iraq because they were more than qualified to “keep Americans safe”.

The President now shot back at the former generals by firing off a Tweet in which he claimed his critics were “failed generals who were unable to do the job” before he arrived.

In Syria, meanwhile, Trump’s decision has already led to the predicted increasing destabilization with Turkey preparing for another invasion which, President Erdogan claims, is meant to eradicate the last remnants of ISIS.

While the Turkish army and its Sunni Islamist proxies were gearing up for an attack on the Kurdish-controlled border city of Manbij in northeast Syria, the Kurds apparently made a deal with the pro-Assad coalition.

Media reported on Tuesday that the Syrian army and its allies were surrounding Manbij to prevent the Turkish attack which should have been the beginning of a wide-scale operation against the Kurdish militia YPG, the dominant force in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF has been working in tandem with US Special Forces to implement Trump’s recently announced new policy in Syria aimed to curb the continuing Iranian entrenchment in the country.

Assad’s forces, which include Iranian-backed Shiite militias, succeeded in reaching the eastern side of Manbij close to the Turkish border while Turkey-backed Syrian Islamist militias were amassing forces north of the city.

US Special Forces continued to patrol Manbij and clashes broke out between Kurdish fighters and Turkish-backed Sunni Islamists which reportedly killed 30 members of the pro-Turkey axis in Syria.

Other incidents in both northern and eastern Syria make clear that the Russian-Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition is trying to use the increasing chaos to conquer more territory.

Assad’s air force bombed positions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the largest Islamist rebel group in Syria, in northern Idlib province which was supposed to be a de-escalation zone under the Sochi ceasefire agreement.

At the same time Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is preventing the civilian population of Idlib from leaving the area, most likely because the Islamists want to use civilians as human shields.

The Islamist rebels in Idlib were supposed to hand over their weapons under the Sochi agreement and to sign a so-called ‘reconciliation deal’ but they refused.

In this respect, it’s important to remember that ISIS and the other Sunni Islamist rebel groups in Syria see the war there as a holy war, making it part of their apocalyptic end-of-days vision.

William McCants, author of the book ‘The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of The Islamic State, quotes Islamist fighters in Aleppo who told him:

“If you think all these mujahedeen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken. They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised – it is the Grand Battle.”

After Trump announced his decision, an ISIS affiliated Sunni Islamist militia warned in a new video that “the flames of war will come to America” after the withdrawal from Syria.

Ridiculing Trump’s pull-out decision, a voice-over in the video said the Americans “have anticipated they can't fight against us forever” and “keep repeating the same self-defeating behaviors.”

"We tell the Americans, the protectors of the Jews and the Crusader protector, whether you withdraw or not our victory is in our continuation,” the voice said.

"Even if you withdraw, you will return soon. If you cannot turn back, we will invade you from everywhere and you will hear our footsteps on the ground. The fighting has just begun and we are confident of victory from Allah,” the voice warned, vowing the Jihadists would not rest until they can “pray in Rome”.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, the pro-Assad is gearing up to take over the strategically important border town Abu Kamal on the border with Iraq.

Officially the build-up of troops and the transfer of tanks and other heavy military equipment to the region in southeastern Deir ez-Zur province is meant to finish off ISIS, but the real reason is to fill the vacuum that will be left once the US military departs from the area.

At the same time, the Iraqi air force has started to bomb areas in the Deir ez-Zur province after Assad authorized the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to carry out military actions in Syria.

All this makes clear that the Iranian axis is working hard and fast to exploit Trump’s pull-out decision and the Israeli government is right to be worried about this development.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will again discuss Trump’s decision with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of the inauguration of Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.