President Donald Trump said a week before Christmas he would bring the U.S. troops in Syria home, and would do it quickly. Now, it seems the president has pulled back on that statement, and troops will see more time in the Middle Eastern country.
National security adviser John Bolton said American troops will leave Syria once ISIS is defeated and Kurdish fighters have protection, according to the Associated Press.
“We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone,” said Bolton, with no indication of any established timeline.
Trump said on Dec. 19 that ISIS had already been defeated, and that “it’s time for our troops to come back home.” He said back then that the roughly 2,000 troops are “all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”
Bolton, who’s currently in Israel, said the United States will finally pull all its troops from Syria once ISIS is rooted out and eliminated, and that Turkey agrees to protect Kurdish troops who fought with American troops.
Trump’s announcement in December not only led to criticism on a regional scale, but the eventual resignation of former defense secretary Jim Mattis.
And at the time, many U.S. lawmakers treated the announcement with skepticism, saying a mid-January pullout — at the earliest — seemed most feasible.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning and said he’s glad the president reconsidered an early withdrawal, even if it leaves the troops in Syria’s northeast sector even longer.
“The bottom line here is we want to make sure we get this right, that ISIS doesn’t come back,” Graham said. “And I applaud the president for re-evaluating what he’s doing. … He has a goal in mind of reducing our presence. I share that goal. Let’s just do it smartly.”
Bolton said in Jerusalem Monday that a new timetable depends on the strategy and policy decisions the U.S. implements.
“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said.
Bolton is in Israel with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are talking with allies of Kurdish forces in Syria to ensure their protection in the event of a full U.S. withdrawal.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said. He continued to say they are trying “to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain.”
Bolton added that Trump wouldn’t allow Turkey to kill the Kurds. Bolton told the Kurds to “stand down” for now, as the Kurds might get confused on who their true allies are, be it Russian or Syrian forces backed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I think they know who their friends are,” Bolton said.
Adam Smith, a Democrat representative who’s the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized Trump’s back-and-forth on the troop situation in Syria.
“We don’t want ISIS to rise again and be a transnational terrorist threat and we don’t want our allies, the Kurds, to be slaughtered by Erdogan in Turkey,” Smith said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
Bolton did say U.S. troops will remain in southern Syria to counteract any Iranian activity in the area of Al-Tanf.
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