Defense

Trump administration agrees to keep 400 troops in Syria

The Trump administration is now planning to leave roughly 400 U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely after withdrawing from the country, double the amount the White House announced a day prior.

A senior administration official told reporters on Friday that the 400 troops would be split between a "peacekeeping group" of about 200 in a safe zone currently being negotiated for northeast Syria, and 200 at the U.S. military base at al-Tanf, according to several news outlets.

The Washington Post reported that the 200 troops based at al-Tanf, near the Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, will stay "for the foreseeable future," according to the official.

The official also said the 200 U.S. troops in the safe zone will be part of an expected 800 to 1,500 troops committed by European allies in order to set up and maintain the safe zone.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday that he would not discuss troop numbers or movements.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Friday that the administration planned to keep 200 service members in Syria, but that it was a "rough estimate" and "not a specific number."

"At the end of the day, the president wants to bring our troops home and he's working towards that and he wants to do that in a safe and peaceful way, in the best way possible, to make sure that we have complete safety for our troops that are abroad," she said.

The new plan backtracks from President Trump's promise in December to immediately pull all 2,000 U.S. service members from Syria, after he declared the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) defeated in the country.

The decision drew intense criticism from both sides of the aisle and prompted the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Questions remain as to what would happen to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish fighters who helped the United States in the fight against ISIS. Turkey has threatened to attack the SDF, which it views as a terrorist group.

The administration later said it would withdraw the troops by the end of April, before committing this week to leaving hundreds behind.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters Friday that he is confident allies will step up to provide troops and help man the safe zone and that "we can maintain the campaign as we plan to."

"We had a campaign that we resigned to clear ISIS from the ground that they held. And we always had planned to transition into a stabilization phase where we train local forces to provide security and prevent the regeneration of ISIS," Dunford said ahead of a meeting with Shanahan and their Turkish counterparts at the Pentagon.

"So there is no change in the basic campaign. The resourcing is being adjusted because the threat has been changed," he said.

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