A recent report stated that contrary to Trump’s expressed desires just a few months ago, a significant U.S. military presence will remain in Syria. This report was immediately refuted, but as the deadline for a U.S. pullout draws near, the actual outcome becomes even more unclear.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the U.S. military is currently working on a plan that will leave as many as 1,000 troops in Syria. This report comes three months after President Trump’s controversial decision to remove all of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn country based on the claim that the goal of defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) had been achieved. The withdrawal was to be completed this year.
The article cited government officials as saying that the change comes after talks with Turkey, European allies, and Kurdish allies have thus far failed to agree upon a safe-zone in northeastern Syria. The dispute is over who will oversee the safe-zone. The U.S. wants members of the multinational anti-ISIS coalition to oversee the zone but Turkey insists that they want the role.
The Kurds have aided the U.S. in the region but are considered a terrorist entity by Turkey, a NATO member state that borders on Syria. The Turkish government reacted to the President’s announcement by stating their intention to cross the border and attack the Kurds as soon as the U.S. military leaves the region.
The president’s announcement was met with bi-partisan criticism at the time and Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned his post.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford denied the accuracy of the report later Sunday.
“A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect,” Dunford said in a statement.
THREAD: Statement by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff #GenDunford on #Syria Troop Numbers: A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect. (1/3)
— The Joint Staff (@thejointstaff) March 18, 2019
“There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President’s direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence.”
The tweet went on to say that the plan had been revised to maintain a “residual presence” in Syria. This is consistent with a White House announcement last month that a “small peacekeeping group of about 200” would remain in Syria.
Last month, Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces, told reporters last month that he wanted US forces to remain inside of Syria, asking for the U.S. led coalition to keep air support and 1,000-1,500 troops in Syria in order to help fight ISIS.
The U.S. led coalition first began its battle against ISIS in Syria in 2014. N 2018, President Trump’s administration indicated its intention to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria to counter Iran’s influence and oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.