Trump Is Said to Order Full Withdrawal From Syria, Citing ‘Victory’

December 19, 2018, 3:25 PM UTC

Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military to completely withdraw from Syria, according to an official, as the president said America has “defeated ISIS” in the war-torn country.

The U.S. military is working to quickly carry out Trump’s order, according to the official.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump said Wednesday morning on Twitter.

A troop withdrawal would be a sharp reversal of U.S. policy that could leave America’s Kurdish allies at the mercy of Turkish troops who have long wanted to pursue forces they view as terrorists. Administration officials as recently as last week disputed the idea that Islamic State is defeated and suggested U.S. involvement would continue.

“If we’ve learned one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can’t just defeat their physical space and then leave,” Brett McGurk, the administration’s special envoy to for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, said on Dec. 11. “You have to make sure the internal security forces are in place to ensure that those gains, security gains, are enduring. So that will take some time.”

The Pentagon didn’t announce the decision publicly, saying Wednesday that “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region,” without giving more details.

As recently as Dec. 6, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “there’s more work to be done.”

Referring to a veteran core of Islamic State fighters still holding out in the Syrian conflict, Mattis said, “That hardened core means tough fighting there plus the potential for it to try to become more influential worldwide. Influential meaning inspiring a tax by surrogates, by those who’ve pledged allegiance to them.

Defense officials have argued that a U.S. departure would leave Syria under the influence of Russia and Iran, even as the Trump administration works to counter Iranian influence internationally.

A withdrawal also would be a victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long pushed for the U.S. to get out of his way when it comes to pursuing the Kurds in northern Syria. The developments come after the U.S. State Department late on Tuesday signaled it would support the sale of a American missile defense system to Turkey — an effort that had been held up by Ankara’s decision to buy a Russian system.