The White House released a statement Wednesday morning following those reports declaring victory over the Islamic State in Syria and announcing that the U.S. has “started returning United States troops home.” However, the statement did not specify when the U.S. will completely eliminate its presence in Syria.
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the statement. “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.”
Trump has pushed for the withdrawal despite warnings from the Pentagon that it’s too early to completely eliminate American presence in the region. Officials at the Pentagon were still trying to talk Trump out of the withdrawal this week, according to the New York Times. Officials have told the President in meetings and calls recently that the move could expose the United States’ Kurdish allies in the region to attacks from Turkish troops and would allow Russia and Iran to have more influence over the region, per the New York Times.
Yet Trump seems hellbent on fulfilling a campaign promise, tweeting Wednesday morning that he had accomplished his goal of defeating the Islamic State.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
While the Islamic State’s control in the region has been diminished, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this month that the U.S. still had a lot of work to do training Syrian forces to keep the Islamic State at bay, as the Wall Street Journal noted.
Trump’s reported decision to abruptly withdraw troops from Syria follows discussions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to launch an offensive against the Kurdish troops who have been fighting alongside the U.S. Trump has argued that such an offensive would be a threat to the U.S., officials told the New York Times.