The United States has begun the process of withdrawing its troops from Syria, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
The move follows a declaration of victory over the Islamic State terrorist organization by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. U.S. officials told reporters earlier in the day that President Donald Trump would formally announce he was pulling American troops out of Syria.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Trump had confirmed the move to him in a phone conversation two days earlier, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a follow-up conversation on Tuesday.
“I spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and with American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday,” Netanyahu said. “The American administration told me that it is the President’s intention to withdraw their forces from Syria.
“They made it clear that they have other ways of expressing their influence in the area. This is, of course, an American decision. We will study its timetable, how it will be implemented and – of course – its implications for us. In any case we will take care to maintain the security of Israel and to defend ourselves in this area.”
Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said, however, that the campaign against ISIS is “not over.” In a statement White said although the coalition forces have “liberated” the territory held by the terrorist group, “We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates.”
Sanders, however, said a clear victory had been made. “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. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. 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.”