I somewhat vaguely recalled that Trump agreed to a pullback of sorts of US forces from parts of northern Syria, reported in the press at the time as practically complete in that area:

Amid growing chaos in Syria, Donald Trump has ordered all US troops to withdraw from the country’s north to avoid a bloody conflict between Turkey and formerly US-backed Kurdish fighters that “gets worse by the hour”, the defense secretary, Mark Esper, said on Sunday [sometime in 2019].

But a more recent/detailed map by the "Jusoor Center for Studies" (because no US/Western publication seems to have anything comparable in detail!) shows a bunch of US outposts near the Turkey-Syria border, albeit just in the North-West "corner", near the city of Qamishli... in 2021.

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(They also have another map for the beginning of 2022, which shows little geographical difference, although the number of US sites is given as just 28 in the latter.)

So, was the 2019 US pullback from the Turkey-Syria border not a complete one to begin with, despite the press reports at the time? Or was there a change in policy later and they later went back?

1 Answer 1


As it is mentioned in the quoted passage, the October 2019 withdrawal was prompted by a Turkish offensive during the Operation Peace Spring. As that offensive ended, the need for evacuation disappeared, and in November of the same year the commander of the U.S. Central Command (in other words, the person responsible for military control of U.S. troops in Middle East), was quoted saying U.S. presence in Syria "not having an end date":

Less than two months after U.S. President Donald Trump demanded all U.S. troops withdraw from northeastern Syria for the second time, the general in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East now says he has no orders to leave the region.

“I don’t have an end date,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told a small group of reporters in Bahrain on Saturday.

Roughly 500 U.S. forces will remain in northeastern Syria with their Kurdish-led partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to continue fighting the remnants of the Islamic State, McKenzie said during a visit to Bahrain for the Manama Dialogue security summit. Under Trump’s directive, the troops will primarily be stationed in the Deir Ezzor province to guard the region’s rich oil fields, but the Defense Department insists that the mission is part of the broader campaign to defeat the terrorist group.

The presence of U.S. troops on the map in question roughly matches the outline of oilfields in North Syria. Official position is that U.S. forces prevent ISIS remnants from gaining control over oilfields; but, from the same article:

Despite the Pentagon’s insistence that the residual force is focused on defeating the Islamic State, experts have questioned the credibility of the U.S. mission, noting that the primary threat to the oil is Russian and Syrian regime forces, rather than the weakened Islamic State. One key question is whether U.S. troops have the legal authority to engage Russian, Syrian, or Iranian forces that attempt to seize the oil fields. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force does not give U.S. forces the authority to fire on state actors unless they are acting in self-defense.

And judging by this NYT article - number of U.S. personnel present in Syria increased almost twofold since 2019:

America still has more than 900 troops, and hundreds more contractors, in Syria, working with Kurdish fighters to make sure there is no resurgence of the Islamic State, which was ostensibly defeated as a caliphate in 2019, after five years of wreaking havoc across Iraq and Syria.

  • Yeah, I managed to find a map of the fields. There are indeed some in the north-west corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey. I'm not sure if they are exploited through. Anyhow, Qamishli seems to be the only city where there is both a Russian and US presence. And that led to some fist fights among other things syriauntold.com/2020/06/05/world-war-iii-in-qamishli Mar 27, 2023 at 14:09
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    @Fizz At least some of them are exploited. The city of Rmelan (in the map of military bases it is hidden under one of US markers) is a major oil industry center in the region. The fields are smaller than the ones in the Euphrates Fault system (the ones near Deir ez-Zor), but still significant. Mar 28, 2023 at 4:20

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