President Trump will leave a “small peacekeeping group” of 200 troops in Syria, after the April 30 deadline to withdraw all forces, according to a report.
“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a brief statement to Reuters.
The decision was reportedly announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday. The two leaders agreed to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” according to the report.
The announcement marked a big victory for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who spent the weekend at the Munich Security Conference convincing allies to leave about 200 troops so that he could convince President Trump to do so as well.
Graham told Breitbart News aboard his military aircraft on the way home from Munich that there was broad agreement for the plan among the U.S. Congress, administration officials, and allies. He was due to speak to the president on Tuesday about his trip.
The 200 U.S. forces will be part of a “stabilizing force” that Graham envisions to reach 1,500 in northeastern Syria. The force would maintain a buffer zone along the border between Turkey and Syria, to prevent Turkish forces from targeting Syrian Kurdish forces, who helped the U.S. defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The force would also prevent the comeback of ISIS, and prevent Iran from gaining more influence in Syria, Graham argued.
Graham announced in Munich that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford would be asking allies to leave a couple hundred troops in Syria as well.
Graham issued a statement late Thursday applauding the president on the decision.
“I applaud President Trump’s decision to leave a small contingent of American forces in Syria as part of an international stabilizing force,” he said.
“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures that Turkey and [Syrian Democratic Force] elements that helped us defeat ISIS do not go into conflict,” he said.
“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria,” he added. “Well done Mr. President.”
The Washington Post reported Thursday that the 200 forces would be “split down the middle” between along the northeastern border between Syria and Turkey, and the Tanf base in southeast Syria. The official also said the total “might rise slightly.”
On Friday, Shanahan and Dunford will host their Turkish counterparts at the Pentagon.