President Trump hinted in a tweet on Wednesday morning that he might be removing the United States’ presence in Syria, fulfilling a campaign promise.
In the tweet, Trump said his “only reason for being there” was the defeat of terrorist group ISIS, something he claims the U.S. was able to accomplish.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted.
White House Press Secretary similarly said in a statement that the U.S. has already started returning troops home.
“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,” Sanders said, as ABC News reports. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. 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.”
The declaration comes four days after coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the terror group has reached its “end of days,” but added that “they still have the capability for coordinated attacks, and the fight is not over.”
A withdrawal plan would make good on Trump’s earlier promise to pull troops from Syria, and comes after Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on the phone last week.
The Pentagon on Wednesday would not confirm reports that U.S. troops were being pulled. “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.” spokesman Col. Rob Manning said.
As USA Today reports, the U.S. has held a presence in Syria since 2014 when then-President Obama sent troops in to help fight back the terrorist group. Upon some quick victories, Obama announced that he would be pulling the soldiers out of the region. After doing so, ISIS returned in force and conquered much of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
On Saturday, there were 47 airstrikes conducted by war planes against ISIS targets, U.S. Central Command announced early Wednesday. The bombs struck 20 ISIS fighting units, destroyed petroleum tanks, a tunnel, vehicle and a mortar-firing position.
Further, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is far from obliterated. The Washington-based think tank estimates ISIS may still possess between 20,000 to 30,000 militants in Iraq and Syria.
U.S. troops, mostly special operations units, have been training local security forces in eastern Syria.
In September, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters the U.S. forces also helped deter Iran from increasing its influence in the region. The U.S. goal has been to beat back ISIS enough to allow the United Nations to broker a peace plan to end years of fighting that have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian and refugee crisis.
As ABC News also reports, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said a decision to pull out the remaining 2,000 troops from Syria would be a “win” for ISIS.
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There are about 2,000 U.S. troops in eastern Syria advising and assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS. The first U.S. troops arrived in Syria under the Obama administration in October 2015. The original force of 50 U.S. advisers grew to an official level of more than 500, though it had actually grown beyond that figure to approximately 2,000 over the following year.
“If these media reports are true, it will be an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump Administration. While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists’ passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers,” Graham said in a statement, via ABC News.
“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world,” he added.