Pompeo: US 'absolutely not' getting out of the Middle East

Pompeo: US 'absolutely not' getting out of the Middle East
© Anna Moneymaker

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Hill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways Graham requests State Department documents on Bidens, Ukraine MORE said Sunday that the United States is "absolutely not" getting out of the Middle East despite the Trump administration's plan to withdraw troops from Syria.

"We’re a force for good," Pompeo said in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group. "The notion of get out doesn’t frankly – doesn’t capture what it is the Trump administration is intending to do. This is about protecting Americans, and we will do the things we need to do to protect America."

Pompeo reiterated that the decision to pull roughly 2,000 troops out of Syria is a "tactical" change that he insisted will not affect the U.S. mission in the region.

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"We still have enormous reach there," he said. "We have the capability to do this. And most importantly, we have the direction from the commander, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE, to continue this fight. And even as we sit here today, even as we’re sitting in this room, the campaign in Syria against ISIS continues."

While Trump initially said in December that troops in the war-torn country are "all coming back and they're coming back now," he and other administration officials have since tempered their language surrounding the withdrawal.

National security adviser John Bolton earlier this month said the U.S. would not fully leave the country without the total defeat of ISIS and assurances from Turkey that it will not target U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria.

The decision to withdraw troops was put under fresh scrutiny last week after ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack in Syria that killed four Americans.

Vice President Pence said hours after the attack that ISIS had been defeated, and made similar comments on Sunday.

Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he was skeptical of whether the U.S. could continue to be effective in the region without a physical presence.

"It takes American leadership and it takes American presence, and we just told the world we're no longer going to be present," he said.