U.S. President Donald Trump suggested on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia may have to pay for continuing America’s military presence in war-ravaged Syria.
“We’ve almost completed that task [of defeating the Islamic State] and we’ll be making a determination very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we’ll do,” Trump told reporters. “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision, and I said, ‘Well, you know, you want us to stay, maybe you’re going to have to pay.’”
“It’s time,” the commander-in-chief responded when asked if he was inclined to pull U.S. forces out of the country.
“We were very successful against [the Islamic State]. 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 did stress that the United States would “not rest until” the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) “is gone.”
On the same day that Trump spoke to reporters, Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said the administration is pushing for “regional ownership” of the conflict in the Middle East, noting that it supports the thaw in relations between Shiite Iran’s ally Iraq and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
McGurk’s comments came during an event sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).
Commenting on President Trump’s suggestion late last month that the U.S. troops are leaving Syria “very soon,” the envoy noted that the United States is carrying out a routine “review” of its operations in Syria.
He stressed that the “review” of operations is not affecting American activities on the ground, adding, “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.”
McGurk and Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East who also participated in the USIP event, acknowledged that ISIS remains a threat to Syria and Iraq but emphasized that the coalition is “ahead” of where they expected to be at this point in the fight.
On Tuesday, President Trump indicated that his administration is expected to make a decision on keeping troops in Syria after nearly four years of war and is now engaged in consultations with American allies about the future.
The U.S. is undertaking a “review” of its operations in Syria that has “also required us … to go to our coalition partners and remind them that their coalition has a big role to play in this,” McGurk declared, echoing the president.
“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,” the envoy added.
Former President Barack Obama deployed U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria in 2014 to combat ISIS.
“Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had pledged an enduring presence in Syria last year as the U.S. and its allies remain on the verge of defeating the Islamic State there, but Trump has thrown the prior plans into doubt with calls to leave in recent days,” the Washington Examiner notes.