Trump to leave 200 US troops in Syria as 'peacekeeping' force

The Trump administration will leave 200 U.S. troops in Syria to act as “a small peacekeeping group” for an unknown amount of time after it pulls most forces from the country, the White House said on Thursday.

"A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, first reported by Reuters.

The White House announced the decision after Trump spoke with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan over the phone.

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Trump in December abruptly declared victory against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the country and announced that the more than 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn immediately. The administration has since changed its timeline and said that it will seek a withdrawal of most troops by the end of April.

Trump's surprise decision prompted the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Trump has since received strong pushback from lawmakers who worry the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — Kurdish forces who helped in the fight against ISIS — would be threatened by Turkey without U.S. protection.

A White House statement on Trump’s call with Erdoğan said that the two leaders spoke about the creation of a possible safe zone in Syria.

The administration has also put conditions on a full withdrawal of troops, including the total defeat of ISIS and assurances from Turkey that it will not target SDF fighters in Syria.