Trump signals US withdrawal from Syria

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE is declaring victory against ISIS in Syria as his administration prepares to withdraw U.S. forces from the country.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

The White House confirmed in a statement that the administration has "started returning United States troops home" but emphasized that coalition efforts in Syria would continue. It also reiterated Trump's claim that "the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate."

"These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," her statement said. "The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders."

Trump’s tweet and the White House statement came after The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported that Trump is preparing to “immediately” pull the 2,000 U.S. troops in the country fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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The reports of plans to withdraw U.S. troops were immediately blasted by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Graham: People should be fired over surveillance report findings GOP, Trump campaign rip CNN for coverage of Horowitz hearing MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a staunch ally of Trump. Graham likened such a move to "an Obama-like mistake."

“After visiting Syria earlier this year, it is abundantly clear the approximately 2,000 American troops stationed there are vital to our national security interests," Graham said in a statement. “An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.

The U.S. military, which backs local forces, has been working to rout ISIS from its remaining pockets in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria.

On Friday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared victory over ISIS in Hajin, the last major town held by the terrorist group. But ISIS continues to hold villages and other areas along the Syria-Iraq border.

The Pentagon after Trump's remarks said its campaign against ISIS would continue, and that it had started the process of returning U.S. troops. 

"The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," said Defense Department spokesperson Dana W. White. "We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign." 

White said the U.S. would "continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates."

A full withdrawal from Syria would be a reversal for the Trump administration, which as recently as Monday was talking about the need to remain in the country until the “enduring” defeat of the terrorist group.

“We’re well on our way to seeing that happen, the problem is ISIS will come back if the underlying conditions are receptive to that kind of ideological movement,” the State Department’s special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said at the Atlantic Council.

National security adviser John Bolton also pledged in September that U.S. forces would stay in Syria until Iran withdraws all its forces.

But a withdrawal would fulfill Trump's campaign promise to pull the U.S. military out of what he described as nation-building missions, even as he pledged to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.

Trump first suggested an imminent withdrawal from Syria in March. 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.”

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.

The decision to withdraw U.S. troops, reportedly made Tuesday, comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to launch a new assault against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

U.S. support for the Kurds has been a major point of tension in U.S.-Turkey relations, as Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish forces terrorists connected to Kurdish insurgent within Turkey.

Erdoğan and Trump spoke by phone Friday. On Monday, Erdoğan said he got “positive answers” from Trump during the call.

Updated: 12:17 p.m.