U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed military leaders to prepare to pull America’s troops from Syria, but he has not yet set a deadline for doing so, according to a senior administration official quoted Wednesday by The Washington Post.
Trump said the U.S. mission will not extend past the destruction of the Islamic State terrorist organization, and he expects other countries to pick up where America has left off – particularly wealthy Arab nations in the region – with sending their own troops, and paying the cost of reconstruction in areas that are stabilized.
U.S. troops, he said, can continue their current activities, training local forces to ensure security in the areas that have already been liberated from ISIS.
“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” the White House said Wednesday in a statement from the Office of the Press Secretary. “The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.
“We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.”
On Tuesday, the president had said at a White House news conference, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”
U.S. Central Command General Joseph L. Votel had explained the need for an ongoing military presence in Syria in comments Tuesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he pointed out, “A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us.” Some of that, he said, would include “stabilizing [territory won] and consolidating gains” as well as “addressing long-term issues of reconstruction” in the country.
Ironically, some of these very same issues were also being addressed Wednesday at a trilateral meeting hosted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that included Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani – all three of whose troops are also in Syria.
Russia’s military force has a contract with Syria for a semi-permanent base in the country for the next 50 years at least; Iran has made it clear it has every intention of carving out a similar territorial gain, with or without Syria’s agreement, let alone that of regional neighbors, Israel included. Turkey is currently engaged in an invasion of northwestern Syria in an attempt to wipe out the Kurdish YPG faction, and Erdogan has vowed to take the campaign to the northeastern region as well, none of which indicates any stability any time soon for Syria.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had indicated in recent months that American troops would be staying in Syria for the time being, to maintain stability and a political resolution.
But Trump appears to be restless and losing patience, and on Tuesday declared, “It’s time. It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS. But sometimes it’s time to come back home, and we’re thinking about that very seriously, okay?”
Also Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Trump about developments in the region – including Syria – and about Iran.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu thanked Trump for “his commitment to Israel’s security and America’s support for Israel at the United Nations.
“The two leaders agreed to continue the close coordination between the two states in order to repel Iran’s aggression and its attempts to destabilize the region.”
The statement didn’t mention whether Netanyahu discussed how the withdrawal of American troops from Syria would impact Iran’s ability to further destabilize the region.