Trump to Leave 200 Troops in Syria, Graham Applauds Decision

February 22, 2019 Updated: February 22, 2019

President Donald Trump will leave 200 American troops in Syria, the White House said on Feb. 21.

The United States began operations in the country in late 2014 to try and eradicate ISIS, the Islamist terrorist group, and under Trump decimated large parts of the organization, prompting the president in December 2018 to announce American troops would be leaving the country.

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

Some 2,000 troops remained in the country when Trump announced the withdrawal, which began on Dec. 19.

“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement at the time. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

On Feb. 21, Sanders said, “A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for [a] period of time.” The statement didn’t include any other information, such as where the troops would be stationed.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) applauded the move.

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict,” he said in a statement.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria. With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.”

Also on Thursday, the White House said Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke and “agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

The safe zone would ensure Turkey doesn’t attack Kurdish-led forces, who have assisted the United States in the fight against ISIS.

Civilians Leave Last ISIS-Held Territory in Syria

Small trucks carrying disheveled men, women, and children left ISIS’s last pocket of territory in eastern Syria in an escorted convoy on Friday, hours after U.S.-led coalition airstrikes meant to pressure the terrorists targeted the area on the banks of the Euphrates River.

Men, women, and children ride in the back of a truck
Men, women, and children ride in the back of a truck in a convoy evacuating hundreds out of the last territory held by ISIS terrorists in Baghouz, eastern Syria on Feb. 22, 2019. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

At least 36 trucks and two buses were seen leaving the through a humanitarian corridor from the terrorist’s territory in the remote village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. They were escorted by gun-mounted pick-up trucks belonging to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

As the convoy passed, automatic machine gun fire could be heard in the distance and coalition aircraft flew overhead.

Some 300 ISIS terrorists, along with hundreds of civilians believed to be mostly their families, have been under siege for more than a week in the tent camp in Baghouz. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) surrounding the patch of land have been unable to carry out a final assault on it because of the presence of the civilians.

An SDF spokesman, Mustafa Bali, said there were coalition airstrikes and intermittent clashes earlier Friday with the terrorists, meant to pressure them into allowing the last civilians to leave.

“For this evacuation to be a success, there [needs to be] military action,” Bali added.

Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops
Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, on Nov. 4, 2018. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

The presence of so many civilians in Baghouz—and possibly senior members of the extremist group—has slowed down the expected defeat of ISIS.

In the past few weeks, nearly 20,000 people had left Baghouz through the humanitarian corridor, leaving the ISIS holdouts on foot, but the terrorists then closed the passage and no civilians left for a week until Wednesday, when a large group was evacuated.

Bali suggested many more civilians were inside, in caves and tunnels under the tents as well as surrounding homes and buildings.

On the convoy that left Baghouz on Friday, civilians could be seen through the flaps of the flatbed trucks. Women, covered from head to toe in black and wearing gloves, were seen hanging on to the metal bar of a truck.

A boy, who appeared to be about 9 or 10 years old, pleaded to get out of the truck, saying he had stomach problems. The escorts stopped to let him out into the desert briefly.

Asked what the situation was like inside the village, he replied, “Not good.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From NTD News

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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