President Donald Trump announced Thursday that America’s presence in Syria will come to an end “very soon,” suggesting it would be in everyone’s best interests to “let the other people take care of it.”
The statement was part of a longer speech made by the president in Ohio, where the topics of his remarks ranged from domestic infrastructure spending to the Islamic State group’s “near defeat.”
“By the way we’re knocking the h– out of ISIS. We’re coming out of Syria very soon,” Trump said. “Let the other people take care of it now — very soon, very soon, we’re coming out.”
“We’ll have 100 percent of the caliphate as they call it, sometimes referred to as land, we are taking it all back quickly, quickly,” he added. “We’re going to be coming out of there real soon, going back to our country where we belong, where we want to be.”
Trump’s statement regarding U.S. involvement in the region echoed remarks he made on the 2016 campaign trail, when the then-candidate denounced America’s presence in the long-running Syrian civil war, according to the Washington Examiner.
Along with calling out U.S. involvement in Middle East conflicts and the amount of money spent in that part of the world, Trump had also criticized the Obama administration for allegedly arming rebels, even when some of them belonged to Islamist groups.
“Just think of it, we spent as of three months ago $7 trillion, not billion, not million, seven trillion,” Trump said Thursday. “Nobody ever heard of the word trillion until 10 years ago, we spent $7 trillion in the Middle East.”
“We build a school. They blow it up. We build it again they blow it up,” he said. “But if we want a school in Ohio to fix the windows, you can’t get the money. If you want a school in Pennsylvania, or Iowa, to get federal money, you can’t get the money. We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East and you know what we have for it? Nothing.”
The president’s remarks come at a time when hundreds of American troops “remain embedded with a Kurdish-dominated military alliance in northern Syria and a pocket of Arab rebels in southeast Syria,” the Examiner reported.
The presence of U.S. troops in Kurdish-dominated regions has prevented Turkey from taking military action. Turkey attempted earlier this year to oust U.S.-allied fighters by invading a small region of northwest Syria that was under Kurdish control.
Trump’s speech also rides on the heels of the Department of Defense’s announcement that recent offensives by U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces to reclaim the last of the land still held by the Islamic State group in Syria have stalled.
Leaders and fighters in the Kurdish military — who make up a hefty portion of the Syrian Democratic Forces — have abandoned the front lines in the war against the Islamic State group in order to battle Turkish forces bearing down on them in the west.
But hours before Trump’s speech, the Pentagon said the U.S. would maintain a presence in Syria for as long as necessary.
“We will continue to support the SDF as they continue to fight against ISIS,” said Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White. “We must not become distracted and reduce the pressure on ISIS.”
As the Examiner noted, Trump’s comments seem to contradict statements that have been made publicly by other administration officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Last November, Mattis admitted that the U.S. would not abandon Syria until a diplomatic solution to stabilize the chaotic region had been found.
“We’re not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has traction,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “That doesn’t mean everyone stays there.”
“We’re going to make sure we set the conditions for a diplomatic solution,” he added. “Not just, you know, fight the military part of it and then say good luck on the rest of it.”
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