On Wednesday, December 19, US President Donald Trump declared the Islamic State (IS) group defeated and announced the US's intent to withdraw US troops from Syria. The US Department of Defense and White House staff confirmed the decision, though it is unclear how many troops, if any, will remain in the northeastern part of the country and how long the withdrawal process will take. A reduced US troop presence in northeastern Syria may allow for the introduction of greater pro-Syrian government influence in the region as well as increased Turkish operations targeting Kurdish fighters over the coming weeks and months. The effective capacities of remaining IS fighters and networks may also grow in eastern Syria.
The US announcement comes shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to launch a new operation against the People's Protection Units (YPG), a primarily Kurdish militia group, in northern Syria east of the Euphrates River. Turkey considers the YPG to be an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Turkish-designated terror group. The YPG has maintained close security cooperation with the US-backed coalition to defeat IS as a major ground force fighting in Operation Inherent Resolve. The YPG is also the leading group within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls most Syrian territory east of the Euphrates River.
To date, the Syrian Civil War - which began in 2011 - involves many parties, including the Syrian government, the Russian government, the Iranian government, the Turkish government, a US-led coalition, and numerous armed groups on the ground (including the Islamic State) with competing goals.
Due to extremely poor security conditions, Western governments generally advise against all travel to Syria, with some banning travel to the country. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to any travel to Syria.
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