Pentagon: 'We'll see' if Russia withdraws from Syria

Pentagon: 'We'll see' if Russia withdraws from Syria
© Getty Images

The Pentagon will “wait to see” whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was sincere in announcing a withdrawal of his forces from Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

“We'll wait to see, like everybody else, what the Russians do with regard to President Putin's reference to a partial withdrawal,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters. “We've seen in the last 24 hours Russians continue to engage in some airstrikes in Syria, so I think obviously this is something we'll wait to see exactly what transpires with regard to the Russians.”

On Monday, Putin shocked the international community by announcing Russian forces would begin withdrawing from Syria less than six months after they began an air campaign in the country.

Putin said Russia’s objective in Syria had been “fulfilled.”

When Russia first intervened in Syria, the Kremlin said it was doing so to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But U.S. officials have said most Russian airstrikes have hit rebels and civilians, propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Almost immediately after Putin’s announcement, questions swirled about his intentions. Putin did not provide a timeline for a complete withdrawal and said Russia would maintain an air base and a naval base in Syria.

The announcement also coincided with the resumption of U.N.-led peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition groups.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Pentagon has seen fewer than 10 Russian aircraft leave Syria, Cook said, without getting into a more specific number. In the past, Russian aircraft have left and come back, he added.

“As always over last six months, we will assess Russia based on their actions, not their words,” he said.

Russian airstrikes since Putin’s announcement have mainly targeted ISIS, which would be not in violation of a partial cease-fire that’s currently in place, Cook said.

If Putin is withdrawing forces to help promote that cease-fire, the Pentagon would “welcome that,” he added.

“But we have to judge Russia by its actions, not its word,” he said. “So we'll see.”