US Troop Levels in Syria 'Quite a Bit Lower' with Help on the Way
By Jeff Seldin May 31, 2019
U.S. officials are touting a "measurable decrease" in the number of U.S. troops in Syria, though they refuse to say just how many remain in the country to aid in the fight against remnants of the Islamic State terror group.
The director of the Pentagon's Defeat IS Task Force, Chris Maier, became the latest official to weigh in on troop levels, describing the withdrawal only in general terms.
"It's been a measurable decrease," he told reporters late Thursday. "The number of U.S. forces that are present now is quite a bit lower than when the drawdown began.
"U.S. force numbers will continue to draw down as conditions continue to, we hope, improve," he added.
Maier's comments come just over a week after the U.S. Special Representative for Syria, Ambassador James Jeffrey, told U.S. lawmakers the number of troops in Syria was "considerably fewer" than it was in December, when President Donald Trump first announced forces they would be coming home.
At the time, officials had said there were about 2,200 U.S. forces in Syria still actively engaged in helping the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight to destroy the last vestiges of the terror group's self-declared caliphate.
The SDF declared victory over IS in late March and, since then, the number of U.S. troops leaving Syria has accelerated, even as top U.S. officials have assured allies that a residual force will remain.
Maier, on Thursday, said it was also increasingly likely that the residual U.S. force would soon be bolstered by an influx of troops and capabilities from other members of the coalition to defeat Islamic State.
"We've talked to close to 30 coalition partners about their role … somewhere over two dozen that we're actively engaged with," he said, declining to share additional specifics. "Very few have told us no at this point."
In the meantime, Pentagon officials say they continue to operate in Syria without any set timeline for pulling out remaining troops, saying the drawdown remains dependent on conditions on the ground.
Nor have they been given what Maier described as "a direct ceiling" on the number of troops that the U.S. will maintain in Syria for the time being.
"We are under no delusions that ISIS is some sort of rag-tag pickup organization," he said, using an acronym for the group. He noted the ongoing threat from IS's clandestine insurgency is "largely steady."
"The trajectory and the trend lines are good, but this is a hard fight and a very capable enemy," Maier said. "I would never put a timeline on it."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|