The top Pentagon general in charge of American troops in the Middle East suggested Monday that the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw troops from Syria could start within weeks.
US Army General Joseph Votel, who is retiring as head of the US Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region that preparations were being made, but the withdrawal would be gradual, Reuters reported.
Asked when the troop movement would start, Votel replied: “Probably weeks. But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground.
“In terms of the withdrawal … I think we’re right on track with where we wanted to be,” he told reporters.
Votel was definitive that all US troops will leave Syria, but he wouldn’t put a public timeline on when the move would be completed, CNN reported.
“The president’s orders are very clear to us. We understand exactly what he has directed,” he said.
Earlier this month Votel testified to the Senate that Trump had not consulted him before making the surprise announcement that he was ordering American troops to leave Syria.
The general is set to retire this spring, and will be replaced by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.
Despite Trump’s decision, America still has 2,000 or so troops in Syria. So far only non-essential gear has been pulled.
The president also said this month that coalition forces were on the verge of freeing all Syrian territory from Islamic State control. However, Votel told senators that despite Trump’s claims, IS has not yet been defeated.
US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting Sunday as they pressed the battle against the last shred of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” in eastern Syria.
The jihadists overran large parts of the country and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but various military offensives have since reduced that territory to a patch on the Iraqi border.
Agencies contributed to this report.