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: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Top Dem demands State Department documents on Khashoggi killing 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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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.