The White House said Wednesday that U.S. troops in Syria have begun withdrawing, shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted said that the U.S. has defeated Islamic State in Syria.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
Sanders said the defeat of IS does not mean the military campaign by coalition forces is ending.
“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,” Sanders said.
Department of Defense spokesman Col. Rob Manning told VOA, “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.”
A withdrawal of the troops would mark a sudden reversal in U.S. military strategy in the region. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior U.S. officials have been advocating for a longer-term military presence in Syria to help ensureIS cannot reemerge as a force in the Middle East.The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of whom work closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Reuters quoted a U.S. official as sayingthe State Department is evacuating all personnel from Syria over the next 24 hours and that the time frame for the troop withdrawal is 60 to 100 days.
Despite their preference for an ongoing military presence in the war-torn country, Trump has said he wanted to bring the troops home when possible.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, disagrees with the pullout.
Former President Barack Obama drew the ire of Trump for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq before Iraqi forces collapsed at the hands of IS in 2014.
Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the chamber's Committee on Foreign Relations, also took to Twitter with praise for the president.
Harry Kazianis, a defense expert with the Center for the National Interest, said the Trump decision should not be seen as a shock.
"In fact, with President Trump promising to the American people he would act only in the national interest— and that U.S. forces have accomplished their objective to defeat the Islamic State — there was no reason for them to stay any longer," Kazianis said in a statement to VOA.
Mattis and State Department officials have expressed concern about leaving Syria before a peace agreement is reached to end the civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced about half of Syria's pre-war population of about 22 million people.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops comes as the U.S. approaches an end of a coalition campaign to recapture territory once controlled by IS.
While an alliance military campaign has defeated IS in Syria, the defeat has angered Turkey, a NATO ally, which is threatening a new offensive in Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces in the alliance an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.
A total pullout of U.S. troops from Syria would still leave the U.S. military with a sizable presence in the region, including more than 5,000 troops in neighboring Iraq.
Source: VOA news