Bolton Contradicts Trump on Syria Withdrawal


White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said Sunday that withdrawal from Syria would occur only after U.S. forces eradicated the Islamic State and assured protection for its allies.

Bolton said during a news conference in Israel with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would be a “cause-and-effect mission,” contingent upon the Islamic State group’s defeat without hope of rising again, and assurances of the defense of regional allies like Israel, protection for the Kurds, and safeguards against further empowerment of Iran.

Bolton’s explanation of the conditions for withdrawal appeared to contradict U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 19 Twitter announcement that the Islamic State group had been defeated and that U.S. forces were “coming back now.”

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Trump contended, however, that he did not say the withdrawal would happen immediately and that he is committed to a “slow and coordinated (U.S.) pullout” from Syria.

Bolton is the first White House official to expound on the requirements for that pullout.

“Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see,” Bolton said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s not the establishment of an arbitrary point for the withdrawal to take place as President Obama did in the Afghan situation…the timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

Bolton said that “the defense of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured,” that Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the U.S. requires assurances that Turkish forces would protect Kurdish fighters who aided the U.S. against the Islamic State group, and that U.S. forces must “make sure ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again,” according to The Washington Post.

Trump also clarified Sunday that “we won’t be finally pulled out until (the Islamic State group) is gone.”

“I’m going to follow what the president said,” Bolton added during the news conference.

The Trump administration’s demand of assurances from Erdogan comes in response to the Turkish president’s announcement in December that Turkish forces would target Kurdish rebels in northern Syria. Turkey has asked to take point on combating the Islamic State group in Syria with U.S. military support.

Granting that request and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria will likely depend in part on whether U.S. State Department envoy Jim Jeffrey is successful in his efforts to reach an agreement with Turkey in which Turkish forces would be allowed to enter northern Syria but avoid areas populated mainly by Kurds.

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In addition to navigating the minefield of tensions between the Turks and the Kurds, Bolton said the administration is also concerned with developing an exit strategy that does not afford Iran opportunity to gain further influence in the region.

“Part of what we want to see is no vacuum in northeast Syria that malign forces can take advantage of, so that will be a big part of discussions with the Turks,” Bolton said.

“It’s going to be a different environment after we leave, there is no question about that, but there is no desire to see Iran’s influence spread, that’s for sure.”

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