Only scattered pockets of ISIS fighters remain in Syria and Donald Trump told his senior advisers he thinks it may be time for U.S. troops stationed there to pull out.
There are 2,000 announced U.S. troops in Syria, most of them Special Forces operators. There are probably hundreds more CIA personnel as well as more Special Forces that are operating under the radar.
Trump is spending Easter weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. During a speech in Richfield, Ohio on Thursday, he revealed his desire to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and turn over security to regional countries.
He said that based on allied victories against Islamic State militants, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”
“Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
The administration officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Trump’s comment during the speech reflected internal deliberations with advisers in which he has wondered aloud why U.S. forces should remain with the militants on their heels.
Trump has made clear that “once ISIS and its remnants are destroyed that the United States would be looking toward having countries in the region playing a larger role in ensuring security and leaving it at that,” one official said.
Such a policy is nowhere near complete, however, the official added.
With Turkey at war with our Kurdish allies in Syria (the U.S. is sitting that one out) and U.S.-backed rebels near defeat, the next phase in Syria will be trying to find a political solution. It will be a long, drawn-out process that will be messy and expensive. We’d be crazy to involve ourselves in the civil war’s aftermath — Google “Iraqi peace process” to see why.
But while ISIS may be defeated in Syria, it is very active elsewhere in the Middle East including Egypt’s Sinai as well as Yemen and Afghanistan. Keeping a few troops in the region is probably prudent:
The second official said Trump’s national security advisers have told him U.S. forces should stay in small numbers for at least a couple of years to make sure gains against the militants are held and ensure Syria does not essentially become a permanent Iranian base.
The U.S .can do nothing to prevent Iran from making Syria a forward operating base to attack Israel. But the Israelis have that situation well in hand and no American military presence is needed — or desired.
Some of John Kennedy’s Vietnam advisers told him in the early 1960s to declare victory and bug out. He didn’t and a tragedy ensued. Perhaps Trump should heed that same advice and get out of the Syrian quagmire while the getting is good.