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Trump Still Touts Syria Pullout Amid Talks With Aides, Allies

By Jeff Seldin April 04, 2018

The United States involvement in Syria is "coming to a rapid end," but the White House is refusing to say when that end will come despite repeated, public calls by President Donald Trump for U.S. forces there to come home.

"The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed," the White House said in a statement Wednesday, using an acronym for the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

"The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated," it continued. "We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans."

The statement, issued a day after Trump said, "I want to bring our troops back home," comes after what multiple sources have described as an "all-hands" national security meeting on Syria at the White House Tuesday that included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.

It also comes after phone calls between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prior to the statement, U.S. military officials had been awaiting possible new marching orders for the country's involvement in Syria.

Calls for mission to continue

The United States currently has about 2,000 troops in Syria as part of its ongoing efforts to defeat and destroy IS, and despite President Trump's public pronouncements on Syria, key U.S. officials have been more cautious, urging a continued U.S. role even as the fight against IS winds down.

"We are in Syria to fight ISIS," said Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, speaking Tuesday at the U.S. Institute for Peace at nearly the same time as the president.

"That is our mission and our mission isn't over," he said, adding that the U.S. presence in Syria remains "incredibly effective and strong."

The top military commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East also indicated U.S. and coalition troops could remain in Syria for some time to come.

"There still are some areas where they [IS] are present and that we will have to continue to operate on," said U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel.

"Our goal is to continue to keep pressure on ISIS...and at the same time to continue to work through the other tensions that are very present here in northern Syria," added Votel.

'Alarm bells' for some groups

Votel also indicated the U.S. could continue to have a military presence in Syria, and Iraq, even after IS is thoroughly defeated.

"The hard part I think is in front of us," the CENTCOM commander said. "There is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase."

In the meantime, the prospect of pulling all forces from the counter-IS fight is not sitting well with U.S. allies, including the Kurds and Iraq.

"A sudden withdrawal from Syria would send a frightening message," Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States, said Tuesday, adding Trump's comments, "ring alarm bells for us and I'm sure for the people of Syria."

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Fareed Yasseen expressed similar reservations.

"We still suffer from Syria," Yasseen said. "Still to this day, we have insurgents crossing the border."

Rather than see the United States leave Syria, Yasseen said Baghdad would like the U.S. to engage more broadly across the region, and even encourage private companies to look to invest more in Iraq.

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