On Friday, Joe Biden announced the nomination of Brett McGurk, an outspoken proponent of the US presence in Syria, to serve as the Middle East coordinator on the National Security Council.
McGurk served as the US envoy to the international anti-ISIS coalition under both President Obama and President Trump from 2015 to 2018. In December 2018, McGurk resigned after President Trump announced his plan to withdraw from Syria.
In January 2019, McGurk penned an op-ed for The Washington Post where he slammed Trump’s Syria policy and warned the US withdrawal would leave a vacuum for ISIS, Iran, and Russia. In the piece, McGurk said since there will be fewer US troops in Syria, Washington’s goals should be narrowed down to supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and supporting Israel’s bombing campaign in Syria against “Iranian threats.”
While President Trump never fully withdrew Syria, he did drawdown the presence. In 2018 there were approximately 2,000 US troops in the country. Now there are an estimated 600 US soldiers in Syria, although it’s tough to know the real number. The former US envoy to Syria, Jim Jeffrey, who resigned in November, admitted in an interview that he was “always playing shell games” to hide the real number of US troops in Syria.
McGurk is also a staunch critic of Turkey’s role in Syria, and Turkey is no fan of him. The Turks see McGurk as the mastermind behind arming Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Specifically, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who lead the SDF and are affiliated with the PKK, a group Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
In 2017, Turkey called for the removal of McGurk from his position as envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition over his support for Kurdish forces. “Brett McGurk, the USA’s special envoy in the fight against Daesh [ISIS], is definitely and clearly giving support to the PKK and YPG. It would be beneficial if this person is changed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the time.