The United States will withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria within the next 30 days, government officials have stated.
Officials discussed the emerging policy on condition of anonymity before any announcement from the White House. It had been thought US defence officials wanted to maintain a US presence, with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis previously stating the US would remain in Syria to ensure the Islamic State group did not rebuild its forces. Since the news was first reported, Jim Mattis has announced he has resigned and will leave his position in February.
The Pentagon has said that the process of withdrawal had already begun but did not provide further details.
President Trump tweeted on Wednesday December 19 that “We have defeated ISIS in Syria” but made no mention of the withdrawal of troops. Following this Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
In response, British Defence Minster Tobias Ellwood replied “I strongly disagree. It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.”
The President also faced concern from members of his Republican party, with Senator Lindsey Graham tweeting “With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated” and “a decision to withdraw will also be viewed as a boost to ISIS desire to come back.”
The US troops are located in Northern Syria, which is under Kurdish control. The US has been allied with the Kurds, and there are concerns that the withdrawal will leave the Kurdish forces vulnerable. As well as fighting the Islamic State group, the Kurdish militants have engaged in action against the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by the Russian and Iranian governments. Turkish President Erdoğan and his government also view the Kurdish forces as a terrorist organisation.
US troops have been in Syria since 2015, with the first airstrikes in 2014. The Pentagon recently said that the Islamic State group now controls about 2 per cent of the territory they originally held.