by Daveda Gruber:
On Wednesday the White House said that the United States’ mission in Syria to eradicate the Islamic State “is coming to a rapid end.”
The White House statement said, “The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”
During a meeting on Tuesday President Trump instructed military leaders to begin planning the withdrawal of troops from the war-torn, Middle Eastern nation.
Trump said that while U.S. troops can still be involved in training local forces to ensure security in liberated areas, he expects other nations, particularly the oil-rich Arab states, to help pay for the reconstruction of Syria and send in their own troops.
Trump said on Tuesday during a news conference with leaders from the Baltic nations, “As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS. We’ve completed that task and we’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do.”
Trump said that the mission is “very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us.”
At this time there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. They mainly work as advisers to local proxy forces and order U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State.
In recent weeks Trump has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion for reconstruction in Syria. This is according to a U.S. official as part of the president’s effort to get other countries to pay for stabilizing the country so the U.S. isn’t on the hook.
This is against the advice of Trump’s top national security team.
Some have warned a premature U.S. withdrawal from Syria would relinquish the country to Iran and Russia, which have supported Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Iran continues its presence in Syria. This is especially troubling to neighboring Israel, a U.S. ally that regards Iran as an existential threat.
CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to be secretary of state, strongly advised against a hasty withdrawal from Syria.
General Joseph Votel said at a conference at the United States Institute of Peace that the United States would have to continue its work against remnants of ISIS in eastern Syria.
Votel is commander of U.S. Central Command. It oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East, including Syria.
Votel said the military campaign has been largely successful but is not over.
Reconstruction was brought up, “The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues. There is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase.”
In Syria, the main Islamic State holdout is in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where momentum by the U.S. backed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ has stalled in recent weeks. Many Kurdish members of the group have shifted west to the Afrin area to fight Turkish forces. Pentagon officials have publicly raised the prospect of this giving the ISIS group the room it needs to regroup.
After Trump said last week that he wanted to leave Syria “very soon,” it became uncertain of what will become of the $200 million in U.S. stabilization assistance for Syria that the White House put on hold.
The State Department intended to spend the money on building up the country’s infrastructure, including power, water and roads.
America first? Maybe Trump has a plan. Maybe it is time to make others pay instead of America picking up the tab.
Trump has said the U.S. will stay in Syria until ISIS is completely defeated.