"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."