WASHINGTON, DC — US President Donald Trump on Monday sought to end fears of an abrupt US pullout from Syria, saying the fight against the Islamic State group was not over and that withdrawal would be done in a “prudent” manner.
“We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!” Trump tweeted.
The president has come under withering pressure both at home and in allied capitals, after previous statements indicating that he considered the IS group vanquished, and that he wanted US troops out of Syria imminently.
Trump’s new statement follows a trip by his national security adviser John Bolton to Israel in which he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that withdrawal would not happen before “ISIS is defeated and not able to revive itself.”
The reassurances followed a diplomatic storm caused by Trump’s surprise announcement in December that appeared to signal a rapid withdrawal from Syria, where US special forces play an important role in supporting local forces fighting IS.
“We’ve won against ISIS,” he said at the time. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
Allies like Britain and France warned that IS was not defeated. Questions were also raised over the fate of Kurdish groups that have done much of the fighting alongside the United States in Syria, but now fear attacks from Turkey.
Israeli officials expressed alarm that a swift withdrawal could enable Iran to expand its influence and presence in Syria, wracked by a years-long civil war and Islamic State militancy. Netanyahu reportedly asked Trump to stagger the US withdrawal over a lengthy period of time, rather than carry out an immediate pullout.
The initial pullout promise also sparked outspoken opposition from within Trump’s Republican party and the resignation of respected defense secretary James Mattis.
In Monday’s statement, Trump complained that media coverage had skewed his original words, saying that his latest position on Syria was “no different from my original statements.”
Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in the Syria, which is in the grips of a complex civil war. Most of the US soldiers are there to train local forces fighting the hardcore-Islamist IS.