WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration will withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops in Syria, according to a U.S. official, as the White House declared victory Wednesday in the mission to defeat Islamic State militants there.
Planning for the pullout has begun and troops will begin leaving as soon as possible, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss military planning and spoke on condition of anonymity. President Donald Trump said American forces no longer were needed in a country torn apart by long-running civil war.
Trump has said since he was a presidential candidate that he wanted to bring back troops from the Middle East. But officials have said in recent weeks that pockets of IS militants remain. U.S. policy has been that American forces would stay in place until the extremists were eradicated.
In addition, Pentagon and other officials have said that U.S. troops were countering Iran-backed militants in Syria, which was an expansion of the U.S. mission.
Trump said on Twitter: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
His tweet followed a series of news reports that the U.S. was preparing to withdraw its troops from Syria. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Reports of an abrupt withdrawal drew quick criticism from Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said a full and rapid removal of troops would be a “grave error with broader implications” beyond the fight against IS.
Responding to the reports, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said in a statement that “at this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.”
The U.S. first launched airstrikes against IS fighters in Syria in 2014. In the years that followed, the U.S. began partnering with Syrian ground forces to fight the extremists.
The Pentagon recently said that IS now controls just 1 percent of the territory they originally held.
Senator Lindsey Graham released the following statement on the report:
“If these media reports are true, it will be an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump Administration. While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists’ passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers.
After visiting Syria earlier this year, it is abundantly clear the approximately 2,000 American troops stationed there are vital to our national security interests.
An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.
Today, we have a small American footprint and limited presence in northeastern Syria in support of our Kurdish allies who were indispensable in the fight against ISIS. Staying there is an insurance policy against the reemergence of ISIS and destruction of our Kurdish allies who fought so bravely against them.
An American withdrawal will put the Kurds and all those who came to America’s aid in destroying ISIS at tremendous risk. It will make it more difficult to recruit future partners willing to confront radical Islam. It will also be seen by Iran and other bad actors as a sign of American weakness in the efforts to contain Iranian expansion.