WASHINGTON, DC — The United States is carrying out a routine “review” of its operations in Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) declared on Tuesday in response to the commander-in-chief’s remarks that American troops will soon pull out of the country.
Brett McGurk, the envoy from the U.S. Department of State (DOS), stressed that the “review” of operations is not affecting American activities on the ground.
“We’re in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission, and our mission isn’t over, and we’re going to complete that mission,” he added.
McGurk’s comments came during a panel discussion on Iraq and Syria hosted by the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) on Tuesday.
The moderator asked McGurk to comment on President Trump’s comments at the end of last month that U.S. troops are leaving Syria “very soon,” adding that the United States has wasted trillions of dollars on the wars in the Middle East.
The president has been clear to us that everything we’re doing has to constantly be reviewed and looked at, specially with every U.S. taxpayer dollar that’s being spent.
So, we have about a regular review process and particular on these $200 million we’re looking at where it can be spent most effectively. I will say that as we undertake this review, it is not hampering our work in the field. So, our diplomats and our development experts from State and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] have plenty of work to do and they also have enough resources to continue with that work.
McGurk noted that the review has “required” U.S officials “to go to our coalition partners and remind them that their coalition has a big role to play” in bringing peace to the Middle East.
He indicated that the Trump administration is pushing for “regional ownership” of the Middle East conflicts.
Without providing a timetable, President Trump doubled down on Tuesday, telling reporters he wanted to “get out” of Syria.
“It’s time,” Trump responded when asked if he wanted to withdraw U.S. troops.
“We were very successful against [ISIS]. We’ll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes, it’s time to come back home, and we’re thinking about that very seriously,” he added.
The president stressed the United States would “not rest until ISIS is gone.”
McGurk and Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, who also participated in the panel discussion on Tuesday, emphasized that the American-led coalition against ISIS is “ahead” of where they expected to be at this juncture, acknowledging that the jihadist group still poses a threat to Iraq and Syria.
During an earlier round of discussions on Tuesday, Sarhang Hamasaeed, the director of the Middle East Programs at USIP, revealed that Shiite-led Baghdad has issued warrants (90,000) or arrested (36,000) about 126,000 individuals accused of having links or belonging to the Sunni terrorist group ISIS.
“That is a big number of people that the Iraqi justice system or security system will have to deal with. … That is a challenge that will threaten [stability],” the USIP expert proclaimed, citing an unnamed “Iraqi senior official” as his source.
Hamasaeed pointed out that the official “acknowledged that not all those people are actually ISIS members. You could be accused of that for a variety of reasons — political, economic, and social reasons.”
President Trump’s comments about leaving Syria reportedly caught the DOS and the Pentagon off guard.