October 2019 saw two major new developments in Syria which have shifted the geopolitics of the region: US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from north-east Syria, abandoning its allies the Kurds and allowing Turkey to invade; and the death, days later, of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a US special forces raid in north-western Syria.

Dr Rodger Shanahan, my guest on Episode 13 of the Rules Based Audio podcast, unpacks the implications of these momentous events. He says Trump’s decision was “a gift” to Moscow and Damascus, leaving the Kurdish forces without leverage in their ongoing negotiations with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. He also discusses what the death of al-Baghdadi means for the future of the Islamic State terrorist group and other militant Islamist groups in the region. And he talks about whether the two events are linked: if the surprising timing and location of al-Baghdadi’s death is connected to the US troop withdrawal.

Dr Rodger Shanahan is a Research Fellow at the Lowy Institute specialising in Middle East security and terrorism studies. A former army officer, he had extensive service within the Parachute Battalion Group (PBG) and has had operational service with the UN in South Lebanon and Syria, with the PBG in Timor-Leste, in Beirut during the 2006 war, and in Afghanistan. He is the former director of the Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre, and has also been posted to the Australian Embassies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Dr Shanahan has a PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies from the University of Sydney. He is also a part-time member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. He has written numerous journal, media, and policy articles, is a frequent commentator on Middle East issues for Australian and international media, has appeared as an expert witness for several terrorism trials in Australia and is the author of Clans, Parties and Clerics: the Shi’a of Lebanon.

Rules Based Audio is a half-hour, fortnightly podcast covering stories from the cracks and faultlines in the global order, hosted by Kelsey Munro and powered by the Lowy Institute. 

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