US to withdraw troops from Syria

The dramatic moves began unfolding hours ago after US President Donald Trump declared that the Islamic State had been militarily defeated, achieving one of the United States’ three goals in Syria.
Thursday 20/12/2018
A 2017 file photo shows US forces, accompanied by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, drive their armoured vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah, on the border with Turkey.
Disputed claim. A 2017 file photo shows US forces, accompanied by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, drive their armoured vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah, on the border with Turkey.

WASHINGTON – The United States will begin to withdraw troops from Syria and US State Department personnel are being evacuated from the war-torn country within 24 hours, according to officials and US news reports.

The dramatic moves began unfolding hours ago after US President Donald Trump declared that the Islamic State had been militarily defeated, achieving one of the United States’ three goals in Syria.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump wrote on Twitter at 9:30 am Washington time.

A US Defence Department spokesman would not confirm speculation that US troops are being pulled. “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.” spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the United States “has defeated the territorial caliphate,” in reference to ISIS. She added: “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.”

Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed US official, said the roughly 2,000 US troops would begin leaving Syria in 60 to 100 days – after the completion of final fighting against ISIS.

Trump’s declaration of victory comes just two days after James Jeffrey, the US State Department’s special Syria representative, cautioned about saying the United States had defeated ISIS and attained one of its three goals in Syria.

“We’re well on the way to seeing that happen. The problem is ISIS will come back if the underlying conditions are receptive to that kind of ideological movement,” Jeffrey said December 17 in little-noticed remarks at a Washington think-tank.

ISIS’s resiliency means that the United States also has to achieve its two other goals in Syria of removing Iranian troops from the country and establishing a new government to replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Jeffrey said.

On December 15, a spokesman for the US-led military coalition in Syria also expressed caution about ISIS. While saying that fighting is “going very well” against ISIS, Colonel Sean Ryan added, “They still have the capability for coordinated attacks, and the fight is not over,” according to the Associated Press.

In September, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told journalists, “Getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say, ‘Okay, we got rid of it,’ march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back.”

The United States has about 2,000 troops stationed in north-east Syria helping the Syrian Democratic Forces fight ISIS.

Trump has previously called for withdrawing US troops and said in April that he wanted to bring US troops home but was effectively overruled by the Defence Department.

Some congressmen disputed Trump’s claim of victory. “This is simply not true,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, wrote on Twitter.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and influential figure on military issues, wrote on Twitter that withdrawing US troops would be “an Obama-like mistake,” referring to former US President Barack Obama.

“While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists’ passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers.”