A Trump Tweet About Syria, Then Conflicting Reports

Troops are coming home, but to what extent hasn't been confirmed
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2018 10:05 AM CST
Updated Dec 19, 2018 1:15 PM CST
Report: Trump to Get His Wish on Syria
In this photo taken Nov. 1, 2018, Turkish and US troops conduct joint patrols around the Syrian town of Manbij.   (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

(Newser) – "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted Wednesday. And though his statement ends there, the implications don't. The Wall Street Journal broke the news that the US is planning an "abrupt reversal of the American military strategy in the Middle East": the withdrawal of all troops from Syria ASAP. The White House subsequently had this to say, via a statement from Sarah Sanders: "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. ... We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign." What followed was several hours of confusion. What you need to know:

  • NPR's read on the statement was that it didn't confirm or deny the reports, and the late morning was filled with conflicting reports regarding what portion of the troops would be coming home and when. Hours later, NPR reported all the troops will indeed come home, and that a drawdown in Afghanistan is being weighed too. AP similarly reported all troops were leaving, sourcing its report to an unnamed official. Still, there has been no official confirmation of this.
  • The Pentagon initially just said that "we continue to work by, with, and through our partners in the region." It later confirmed at least some troops were coming home. Its statement: "The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over. We have started the process of returning US troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign." The BBC reports the Pentagon would not detail that next phase "for force protection and operational security reasons."
  • Speaking of confusion, the AP notes what the US special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, had to say last Tuesday: "I think it's fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring. Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign."

  • There are roughly 2,000 US troops in the country, and an equivalent number of ISIS fighters occupying a small area near the Iraq border (though USA Today notes the number of militants thought to span Syria and Iraq is as high as 30,000).
  • CNN reports the 5,000-strong US force in Iraq could launch attacks into Syria if needed and has been doing so in recent weeks.
  • The Journal reports the news follows a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday, and the paper says talks about a withdrawal "moved rapidly" after that. The US has supported and partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in its fight against ISIS; Erdogan is no fan of the partnership and has spoken of launching an attack on the Kurdish forces.
  • Trump has long voiced his desire to get out of Syria, saying in March, "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home."
  • Speaking of not being a fan, Politico reports the news was condemned by some Republicans. "If these media reports are true, it will be an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump Administration,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement, saying such a move would be a "big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia." Sen. Marco Rubio called it "a colossal, in my mind, mistake—a grave error that's going to have significant repercussions in the years and months to come."
  • As for non-troops, NPR reports State Department staffers who have been working to improve things like water, electricity, and schools will come home, too, and that US citizens living there will be advised to follow suit.
(Read more Syria stories.)

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