Trump extends indefinite Syria strategy: report

Trump extends indefinite Syria strategy: report

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE has approved a new strategy for Syria that will indefinitely leave about 2,000 U.S. troops there, according to The Washington Post.

The strategy will also continue diplomatic and economic efforts, according to the Post.

Citing senior State Department officials, the Post reported that the strategy has changed because of growing doubts on if Russia is willing and able to expel Iranian forces from the war-torn nation.

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Trump has said Russia could be a partner in Syria, but regional experts have long doubted Moscow’s ability or desire to remove Iranian forces from the country. Both Iran and Russia are allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad and have been propping up his forces in Syria’s civil war.

"The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year," James Jeffrey, recently appointed special envoy for Syria engagement, told a small group of reporters Thursday, according to multiple reports.

The U.S. presence in Syria is both meant to ensure the “enduring” defeat of ISIS and the eventual complete withdrawal of Iranian forces from the country, Jeffrey said.

“That means we are not in a hurry to pull out,” Jeffrey added.

Jeffrey also said he was “confident the president is on board” with a “more active approach” in the country.

The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria focused on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The terrorist group has lost most of the territory it once held there, but U.S. and coalition forces continue to try to rout them from their remaining pockets in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

In late March and early April, Trump caused a stir by suggesting an imminent withdrawal from Syria.

In a speech about infrastructure, he made a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that the United States will “be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.” Days later, he reiterated, “I want to get out. I want to bring those troops home.”

For months before that, Defense and State officials had talked about the need for an enduring presence in Syria even after the defeat of ISIS to ensure the terrorist group doesn’t re-emerge, to act as a check on Iran’s regional ambitions and to help keep the country stable while the diplomatic process to end the civil war plays out.

After talking about withdrawal, Trump agreed in April to leave U.S. troops there until ISIS is defeated. But he was said to have given the military a six-month timeline to do so.

Talk of a new U.S. strategy in Syria comes as the Trump administration is increasing its warnings ahead of a regime offensive to retake Idlib, the last major bastion of Syrian rebels. Russian warplanes have already started striking the area.

"If it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry, and the United States is going to get very angry, too,” Trump said Wednesday of Idlib.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department also announced sanctions on four individuals and five companies aligned with Assad in an effort to increase pressure on him ahead of the offensive. 

"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation," Jeffrey said. "You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refugee flows or attack innocent civilians," and "the consequences of that are that we will shift our positions and use all of our tools to make it clear that we'll have to find ways to achieve our goals that are less reliant on the goodwill of the Russians."