The United States is considering a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Islamic State, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term U.S. military presence in Syria, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior U.S. officials had advocated to help ensure Islamic State cannot reemerge.
Still, President Donald Trump has previously expressed a strong desire to bring troops home from Syria when possible.
The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced.
The Pentagon and White House declined to comment.
The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of Islamic State in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.
The deliberations on U.S. troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, U.S. forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor in the country and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against the SDF.
A complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria would still leave a sizable U.S. military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.
Much of the U.S. campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East.
Still, Mattis and U.S. State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million.
In April, Mattis said: “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight — and then you win the peace.”
Islamic State is also widely expected to revert to guerrilla tactics once it no longer holds territory.
A U.S. withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if Islamic State reemerged.
Trump has previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of Islamic State’s advance into the country in 2014.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Frances Kerry
Nicolle Wallace tells Colbert why she cursed at Fox News host Laura Ingraham — and that she left the GOP
MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace appeared on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" Wednesday after spending hours analyzing the impeachment hearings that began that morning.
One of the first things Colbert asked about was the recent smackdown from Wallace about Fox News host Laura Ingraham and her guests going after Col. Alexander Vindman. Ingraham proposed that because Vindman was born in Ukraine that he was somehow a traitor to the United States for coming forward about President Donald Trump's admitted crimes.
‘It takes a small mind to want to out a whistleblower’: Rachel Maddow blasts Trump and GOP
In an analysis of the first day of impeachment, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explained to late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon why the impeachment hearings were a lot more rational than she anticipated.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) switched committees just to appear and ask questions and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) humiliated himself, but aside from that, Maddow said she was surprised there were reasonable questions, and everyone remained calm.
Seth Meyers mocks Devin Nunes saying Dems wanted to find nude photos of Trump: ‘Literally no one wants that’
"Late Night" host Seth Meyers ridiculed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) for his absurd line of questioning that accused Democrats of the impeachment is the same as the Russia scandal.
Nunes said that Democrats want the world to forget about their efforts to obtain nude photos of Trump, something Meyers countered with actual sense.
"Hey man, I guarantee you no one wants nude pictures of Donald Trump," Meyers said. "I'm not crazy about clothed pictures of Donald Trump. Also, I have to believe that if there were nude pictures of Donald Trump, the first person to show them would be Donald Trump. He'd probably hold a press conference with a giant poster board."