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The US is withdrawing all ground troops from Syria

Planning for the pullout has begun and troops will begin leaving as soon as possible, a White House spokesperson has said.

Image: Allison Dinner/PA Images

DONALD TRUMP’S ADMINISTRATION will soon withdraw all 2,000 American troops from Syria, a U.S. official said today as President Donald Trump declared victory in the mission to defeat Islamic State militants there.

Planning for the pullout has begun and troops will begin leaving as soon as possible, said the official said.

As Vice President Mike Pence met with top military leaders in the Pentagon today, Trump tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

That declaration of victory is far from unanimous.

The decision will fulfill Trump’s long-stated goal of bringing troops home from Syria, but military leaders have pushed back, arguing that the IS group remains a threat and could regroup as it battles in Syria’s long-running civil war.

Trump has argued for the withdrawal since he was a presidential candidate. But the decision underscores the division between him and his military advisers, who have said in recent weeks that pockets of IS militants remain and U.S. policy has been to keep troops in place until the extremists are eradicated.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains concerned about Iranian efforts in the area, reacted in non-committal fashion after talking with Trump by telephone.

“This is, of course, an American decision,” he said. Israel will learn of the timetable and manner of withdrawal, he said, and no matter what “we will safeguard the security of Israel and protect ourselves from this arena.”

‘A disaster in the making’

Leading Republican senators reacted with displeasure to the news.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, typically a Trump backer, said he was “blindsided” by the report and called the decision “a disaster in the making.”

The biggest winners in this are ISIS and Iran.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the withdrawal would be a “grave error with broader implications” beyond the fight against IS.

Just last week, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said U.S. troops would remain in Syria even after the Islamic State was driven from its strongholds.

“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that defeat is enduring,” McGurk told reporters on 11 Dec.

“Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign.”

Two weeks ago, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. still has a long way to go in training local Syrian forces to prevent a resurgence of IS and stabilise the country.

He said it will take 35,000 to 40,000 local troops in northeastern Syria to maintain security over the long-term, but only about 20% of them have been trained.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in September that the U.S. would keep a military presence in Syria as long as Iran is active there. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he said.

James Stavridis, a former Navy admiral who served as top NATO commander, tweeted today that “Pulling troops out of Syria in an ongoing fight is a big mistake. Like walking away from a forest fire that is still smoldering underfoot. Big winner is Iran, then Russia, than Assad. Wrong move.”

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Associated Press

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