The United States military has begun pulling out the estimated 2,000 American troops deployed to Syria, the top Pentagon spokesperson confirmed in a statement Wednesday, noting that although the U.S.-led coalition “has liberated” the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-held territory in the region, the campaign against the jihadi group “is not over.”
In a statement sent to Breitbart News via email, Dana White, the chief spokesperson at the Pentagon, declared:
The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over. We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign. For force protection and operational security reasons, we will not provide further details. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates.
Her comments came after CNN and other news outlets, citing anonymous sources, reported that the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is planning a “full” and “rapid” military withdrawal from Syria.
In the wake of the reports, President Trump wrote on Twitter, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” However, the office of the inspector general (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) reported last month that the group remains a threat to Iraq and Syria, echoing other assessments.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
“ISIS has lost all territory it held in Iraq and remained in control of only one percent of territory it once held in Syria. However, the DoD and a report produced by a United Nations Security Council monitoring committee stated that an effective clandestine ISIS organization has moved underground and is acting as an insurgency in both countries,” the OIG reported on November 5.
The U.S. military has repeatedly described its primary goal in Syria as the enduring defeat of ISIS but has also acknowledged that Iran’s presence in the country poses a major menace to American interests.
“While the DoD reiterated its position that its mission remains the ‘enduring defeat’ of ISIS, U.S. officials issued statements this quarter regarding Iran and Syria’s ongoing civil war that raised questions about the duration of U.S. troops in Syria,” the Pentagon’s OIG noted.
Last week, the U.S.-led coalition issued a statement saying there would be no change to its mission in Syria.
“The Coalition mission in northeast Syria remains unchanged. We continue our normal operations, including observation posts in the border region to address the security concerns of our NATO ally Turkey,” the alliance stated. “We remain committed to working with our partners on the ground to ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS. Any reports indicating a change in the U.S. position with respect to these efforts is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos.”
Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, also stressed last week that American troops would remain in Syria even after the American-led coalition completely vanquishes the terrorist group’s physical caliphate.
“There’s clandestine [ISIS] cells [in Syria]. Nobody is saying that they are going to disappear. Nobody is that naive. So we want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” he added.
Citing U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that America’s partners in northeast Syria, namely the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), are aware of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw.
The Pentagon is reportedly expected to keep the 5,000 troops already deployed in neighboring Iraq. Those troops will reportedly have the ability to launch attacks into Syria, if necessary.
The U.S. military believes ISIS still has several thousand jihadis in Syria.