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What would the US withdrawal from Syria mean for the region? | Trump

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On December 19, Donald Trump made a move that took almost everybody, including members of his own administration, off guard – he ordered a full, rapid withdrawal of over 2,000 US troops from Syria.

The president justified his decision by saying that the only reason US troops were in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, and now that this mission is accomplished, there is no reason for them to stay in the country.

Trump’s unexpected announcement, which underlined the continued absence of a clear and coherent US strategy in Syria and the wider Middle East, is likely to mark the start of a new period of conflict in the region.

Following Obama’s footsteps

Over the past few years, apart from defeating ISIL, the US has not been able to define clear political objectives in Syria. 

Barack Obama was elected on a promise to reverse his predecessor George W Bush’s heavy military involvement in the Islamic world. He hence ordered the full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at the end of 2011.

In June 2014, Mosul’s fall to ISIL forced Obama to get involved in Iraq once again. A US-led international coalition to defeat ISIL and prevent it from establishing a state across Syria and Iraq was formed. However, Obama was still reluctant to commit a large number of ground forces to this fight, so he relied on local proxies to fight ISIL.

In Iraq, Obama worked with the Iraqi government, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias against ISIL. In Syria, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), the backbone of which is the Kurdish YPG, became America’s most reliable local ally against the armed group. The Obama administration trained, funded and equipped the Kurdish group despite strong objections from Turkey, which considers the YPG a terror organisation.

A full-blown proxy war

Mainly as a result of the Obama administration’s reluctance to act as a hegemon, Syria’s conflict rapidly transformed into a full-blown proxy war. The unwillingness of the US to play a more active role in the conflict enabled regional powers – such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia – to step in and try to influence the course of events in Syria and the Levant at large. Russia also joined the fray in September 2015, when it became absolutely clear that the US had become utterly uninterested in the outcome of the Syrian conflict.

When Trump moved into the White House in early 2017, despite his known disapproval of most of his predecessor’s policies, and the well-known reluctance of some members of his administration to end the US military presence in the Middle East, he chose to continue with Obama’s hands-off approach in the region. 

And only a year later, he expressed his intention to go even further than Obama and order a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

Trump first announced that the US will be “coming out of Syria, like very soon” in March 2018. Regional allies and advisers convinced the US president that ISIL was not completely defeated, so he agreed to give the Pentagon and State Department another six months to finish the job, still refusing to commit to an open-ended military presence in Syria.

Implications for Syria and the region

Now that the Trump administration officially announced its intention to leave Syria for good, regional powers who have been active participants in Syria’s war will likely increase their efforts to gain control of the areas that are currently under US control.

As things stand now, the US, through its Kurdish allies, controls approximately one-third of Syrian territory. These areas are justifiably dubbed by the media and analysts as “useful Syria”: They contain Syria’s major oil and gas fields, main water resources, dams, power plants and most of its fertile land.






WATCH: Trump defends decision to withdraw troops from Syria (2:27)

Regaining control over these territories is of vital importance for Russia. Moscow lacks the funds to sustain major reconstruction efforts in post-conflict Syria, without which its costly military achievements – defeating the opposition and securing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad – would be hollow. It also wants to be financially rewarded for its military support of the Syrian regime. Hence it had long been eyeing the oil and gas fields that are currently under US control. Now that the US is leaving, Russia will do everything necessary to be the power that fills this vacuum.

Iran is also interested in the US-controlled Syrian territories, albeit for completely different reasons. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has been working hard to establish a “Shia Crescent” from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean Sea. The US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 brought Iran one step closer towards achieving that goal. Yet, the rise of ISIL and the loss of a huge swath of territories in eastern Syria and western Iraq to the group denied Iran the possibility of keeping a land corridor open from Tehran to Damascus and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran supported the US war on ISIL and even sought membership in the international coalition against the armed group, with the expectation that the US will leave the region once this fight is over. Now that the US is doing just that, Iran will resume its efforts to have the trans-Syria land corridor reopened by trying to increase its influence over northeast Syria.

The US decision to leave northeastern Syria will also cause problems for Israel. In September, a Russian spy plane was downed by Syrian regime forces after Israeli jets used it for cover during attacks in Syria. The incident caused Moscow to downgrade its cooperation with Israel in Syria. As a result, Tel Aviv became fully dependent on the US to keep Iran’s influence in Syria in check. Following the US decision to leave Syria, Israel is now left with little leverage to shape events on the ground in Syria.

Saudi Arabia also has strategic interests in the area. Over the past year, Riyadh exerted tremendous efforts to convince President Trump to maintain a substantial military presence in northeast Syria to counterbalance both Turkey and Iran. Last November, the Saudis committed $100m to convince the US to keep its troops in Syria. At one point, Riyadh even offered to send troops to patrol the area alongside the US and the YPG. Hence the US decision to leave the area likely caused major disappointment for the Saudis and encouraged them to play an even more hands-on role in the country’s future.

Turkey too is interested in this part of Syria. It has long accused the US-backed SDF of trying to establish an independent state in northeast Syria and has called repeatedly for the US to end its support for the Kurdish group, which it considers to be the Syrian arm of the PKK. In recent weeks, Turkey threatened to launch a major crossborder military operation to destroy its bases in Syria. Now that the US is withdrawing its troops from the region, it might be tempted to move in and eliminate the YPG as it did with Operation Olive Branch in Afrin early in the year.

This means the SDF is possibly the actor that will be most affected by the US decision to withdraw from Syria. Now that it is officially abandoned by its superpower patron, the Kurdish group will be forced to start looking for new allies to help it survive in the new political environment. Most likely, it will move closer to the Russia-Iran-Syrian regime axis to deter a Turkish military intervention.

ISIL might also find a window for a resurgence in the vacuum that will be created as result of Washington’s exit.

In light of all this, the US withdrawal from Syria is likely to be the single most important development in the Syrian conflict since Russia’s intervention in September 2015. It could bring the Syrian conflict back to where it was before the rise of ISIL: a major power play fueled by the competing interests of regional actors. We might hence witness another round of conflict in Syria between middle size powers after the departure of the hegemon. In other words, the ultimate outcome of Trump’s decision to leave Syria could perhaps be the start of a new “all-against-all” war in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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