The Department of Defense is designing a timeline for the withdrawal, according to a senior administration official. The withdrawal is consistent with President Donald Trump’s campaign promise and public statements since his inauguration, the official said.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Dec. 19.
While the United States began operations in Syria in late 2014 with the goal of eradicating ISIS, gains against the terrorist group accelerated dramatically under President Donald Trump. According to the State Department, the president adopted several policies that have empowered the military, including the delegation of decision-making from the White House to commanders in the field.
“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. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Sanders didn’t specify a timetable for withdrawing the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in the region or how many troops have already returned home. She added that Washington will continue to work with the global alliance against ISIS.
“The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders,” Sanders said.
The State Department is evacuating all of its personnel from Syria within 24 hours, a U.S. official told Reuters.
Trump has previously spoken of his desire to bring the troops home from Syria. His Dec. 19 message showed that he saw no further reason to keep troops in the region.
One official told Reuters that partners and allies had been consulted. Two U.S. officials said a decision to withdraw had already been reached but that could not be immediately confirmed.
The Pentagon declined to comment, saying only that it continued to work with partners in the region.
Many of the remaining U.S. troops in Syria are special operations forces, working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of ISIS in Syria, but has also outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish militia 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 around 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.
The United States is currently working on stabilizing and providing early recovery efforts in areas liberated from ISIS control, including the removal of explosive war remnants and the restoration of essential services.
In addition to leading the global coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria, the United States is the single largest donor for efforts in response to the conflict in Syria. Washington has provided nearly $8.1 billion in assistance for people displaced since the crisis started, including 12.1 million people suffering in Syria and 5.6 million Syrian refugees in the region.
The crisis in Syria began in 2011 along with similar unrest in the Middle East during the Arab Spring protests. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad violently suppressed protests against his regime, triggering an armed conflict that has ravaged Syria since and allowed ISIS to gain territory.
Reuters contributed to this report.