Military approves 'conditions-based' Syria withdrawal plan

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has approved a now-in-motion plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria that “is conditions-based” with no timeline, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) “has an approved framework for the withdrawal of forces from Syria, and is now engaged in executing that withdrawal,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson said in a statement.

“That framework is conditions-based and will not subject troop withdrawal to an arbitrary timeline. The framework will be influenced by a number of factors, including weather.”

The statement is the latest update of the planned length of the drawdown, which has been stretched out since President Trump first announced on Dec. 19 that he ordered troops to begin leaving Syria and said that they were “coming back now.” Administration officials said at the time that he ordered forces to begin leaving Syria in 30 days.

Trump also declared the U.S. had “defeated ISIS in Syria,” which he has since walked back, tweeting on Dec. 31 that the group was “mostly gone.”

The president later extended the pullout timeline to four months, but national security adviser John Bolton said over the weekend that U.S. forces would remain in Syria until the last of ISIS is defeated. The withdrawal is also stipulated on the administration securing a guarantee from Turkey that it will not attack Kurdish forces in Syria, who have been allied with the U.S., Bolton said.

The Pentagon’s latest statement adds that the United States “will continue to provide support to the Coalition's operation in Syria while withdrawing troops in a strong, deliberate and coordinated manner in order to ensure US forces' safety and protection.”

Noting a concern for operational security, Robertson said the Pentagon will not discus specific troop movements or timelines, but plans to provide “a periodic update on progress regarding percentages of equipment removed from Syria.”

He added that the OIR mission has not changed and U.S. forces will continue to fight “to achieve an enduring defeat of ISIS.”

“We will continue to work with partners and allies to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS through sustaining military gains and promoting regional security and stability.  We thank every member of the Coalition for their contributions to the fight against ISIS,” Robertson said.

Lawmakers in both major parties have criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw troops, arguing that an abrupt pullout could destabilize the region and strengthen ISIS. The decision precipitated James Mattis's resignation as Defense secretary.