Top military, State Department officials: Mission in Syria isn’t over
Top Pentagon and State Department officials on Tuesday said the U.S. won’t be leaving Syria anytime soon, even as President Trump indicated the same day that he wants to pull U.S. troops from the war-torn country.
U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel said “well over 90 percent” of land once held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been liberated, particularly in the north and eastern portions of the country, but that the military must maintain its presence there.
“There still are some areas where they are present and that we will have to continue to operate on,” Votel said at a U.S. Institute of Peace event in Washington.
Speaking alongside Votel, Brett McGurk, the State Department’s special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, agreed that “ISIS is not finished.”
“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission and our mission isn’t over, and we’re going to complete that mission,” McGurk said.
At a news conference on Tuesday with leaders from the Baltic states, meanwhile, Trump said that he wants to pull U.S. forces out of Syria. He said that no final decision has been made, however.
“I want to get out. I want to bring those troops home,” Trump said.
“Seven trillion dollars in the Middle East over the last 17 years, we get nothing out of it … except death and destruction. It’s a horrible thing.”
Trump also suggested the U.S. military would stay in Syria if other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, would pay for it.
This is the second proclamation Trump has made within a week pressing for an early U.S. exit from Syria.
In a speech in Ohio on Thursday, he said the U.S. would be “coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” and called on other countries to “take care of it now.”
About 2,000 U.S. troops are in Syria to back Kurdish fighters against ISIS. Leaving Syria too soon has raised concerns among some officials of a possible ISIS resurgence in the country.
In another indication of Trump’s skepticism over U.S. involvement in Syria, the president late last month ordered the State Department to freeze $200 million in funds to help recovery efforts in the war-torn country.
The U.S. had agreed to provide the additional $200 million, announced in February, to bolster recovery and stabilization efforts in Syria.
Addressing the freeze, McGurk acknowledged that the money is under review, but that the freeze is not hampering work at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development in its Syria recovery efforts, including explosives clean-up and rubble removal.
“The president has been very clear to us that everything we’re doing has to constantly be reviewed and looked at and especially with every U.S. taxpayer dollar that is being spent,” he said.
“We have a regular review process and particularly on this $200 million we’re looking at where can it be spent most effectively.”
McGurk added that the review has also required the State Department “to go to our coalition partners and remind them that the coalition has a big role to play in this.”
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