U.S. defense officials told reporters Wednesday that planning for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of U.S. ground forces from Syria was underway. U.S. policy towards Syria has shifted multiple times during the Trump administration. At the start of this year, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said U.S. forces would “stay forever.” President Trump appeared to confirm that policy was over on Wednesday, tweeting: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders then echoed Trump’s words in a statement. “Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” Sanders wrote. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary.”
Despite the White House’s position, the Pentagon maintained that nothing has changed. “At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region,” said Col. Rob Manning. The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mostly working to train local forces in combating ISIS. A U.S. withdrawal risks diminishing American influence in the region, satisfying the goals of Syria, Iran, and Russia.