All of the US’s roughly 2,000 troops in Syria will be leaving, President Donald Trump said Wednesday in a major policy departure for Washington.
Trump earlier in the day declared victory over the Daesh terrorist group, saying its defeat was the sole reason for the US’s presence in the country under his administration. “It’s time for our troops to come back home,” Trump said in a pre-recorded video message posted on Twitter. “Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”
The US began its air campaign in Syria in 2014, deploying troops to the country to assist in the anti-Daesh fight alongside local partners the year after.
The president’s announcement had come as a shock to many after several top administration officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, insisted the US would not be removing its forces until Iran exited Syria.
Reports have suggested all State Department personnel would depart Syria within the next 24 hours while U.S. forces will leave within 60 to 100 days.
It is unclear from Trump’s statement if “they’re coming back now” means all troops are being immediately extracted or if there is a gradual scale for their withdrawal.
The White House had earlier stressed that recent military victories against Daesh “do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign”.
“We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next steps of this campaign,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary.”
Those reassurances were met with skepticism from some of Trump’s key Capitol Hill allies, who warned Daesh is far from final defeat.
The withdrawal follows a military operation in northeastern Syria vowed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against the YPG/PKK. Ankara has carried out two separate military operations in northern Syria in the past.
The US had warned publicly against a new operation in northeastern Syria as it works alongside the YPG-led SDF, which is fighting Daesh in its last remaining major foothold in eastern Syria.