Pompeo: US withdrawal from Syria a 'tactical change'

Pompeo: US withdrawal from Syria a 'tactical change'
© Anna Moneymaker

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring White House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week MORE argued in an interview broadcast early Sunday that President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria is a "tactical change" that does not affect his administration's goals in the Middle East.

Pompeo said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the withdrawal of U.S. troops doesn't change efforts to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or pressure Iran.

"Those are all real missions," he said. "The tactical change we've made and the withdrawal of those 2,000 troops is just that — a tactical change. Mission remains the same."

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Pompeo said the troop drawdown is "underway" and will be done in an "orderly and deliberate" fashion. He said Trump's guidance on the U.S. pullback from the war-torn country has been "incredibly clear."

Trump has insisted he's not altered his language on the Syria withdrawal. However, the president said last month that troops would be "coming back now" and that ISIS had been defeated. The announcement led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisAmash rips Trump over move to send troops from Syria to Iraq Defense chief says US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours MORE.

The administration has since put conditions on a full withdrawal of troops, including the total defeat of ISIS and assurances from Turkey that it will not target U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Pompeo said Sunday that Trump previously spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about protecting Kurdish fighters.

"The Turks have made clear that they understand that there are folks down in Syria that have their rights," he said. "We also want to make sure that those in Syria aren't attacking— terrorists aren't attacking Turkey from Syria. We're fully engaged."

A spokesman for U.S. coalition forces said Friday that the U.S. “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements."