The White House announced Wednesday that the United States will begin withdrawing its approximately 2,000 troops in Syria in the coming days.
President Donald Trump confirmed the move with a morning tweet: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders offered further details in a statement later Wednesday morning.
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” she said.
“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) December 19, 2018
“The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders,” Sanders added.
Reuters reported, “One U.S. official said Washington aimed to withdraw troops within 60 to 100 days and said the U.S. State Department was evacuating all its personnel in Syria within 24 hours.”
Trump, who has been looking for a way to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, had reluctantly agreed to give the Pentagon more time in April to finish the mission, according to The New York Times.
The paper reported that in a series of conference calls and meetings over the past several days, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior national security officials tried to dissuade Trump from a full withdrawal, arguing a U.S. exit would leave a power vacuum in the region that would be filled by Russia and Iran.
They further contended abandoning our Kurdish allies would make it harder for the U.S. to maintain trust with other partners in contested areas such as Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Times suggested what might be prompting Trump’s move are conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan reportedly is planning to launch a new offensive in Syria against the Kurdish troops that the U.S. equipped and trained to fight the Islamic State.
The Turkish president’s concern is that the Kurds will succeed in forming a semiautonomous state in northeast Syria, similar to the one it already has in Iraq, which borders Turkey to the east.
Trump is said to have argued keeping U.S. troops in the region would risk them getting caught up in a fight between two allies.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, came out in opposition to Trump’s decision.
Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake. https://t.co/atsjHUyJlB
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 19, 2018
“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” the Republican tweeted. “With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated in Syria, Iraq, and after just returning from visiting there — certainly not Afghanistan.”
Former President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, many have argued, created a power vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — who tends to share Trump’s views on foreign wars — applauded the move, tweeting, “I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It’s been a long time since that has happened.”
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