US officials in charge of the fight against the Islamic State (IS) warned today that the American-led coalition’s hard-fought gains could yet be reversed as President Donald Trump considers pulling out 2,000 US troops from Syria.
“The hard part is in front of us,” US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said at a US Institute of Peace panel alongside top diplomatic and humanitarian officials. “Stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains.”
Votel said the US mission to stabilize areas cleared of extremists was six to eight months ahead of schedule. US forces and their Syrian and Iraqi allies, he said, have been through “some very lengthy fights.”
The remarks come amid uncertainty about the Trump administration’s plans for the region as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces reclaimed the last rebel-held Damascus suburbs earlier this week. The National Security Council was set to discuss the US strategy in Syria today, CNN reported, while Trump’s latest public remarks cast doubt on a Pentagon proposal to send dozens more military advisers to aid US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
At a campaign rally in Ohio last week, the president promised to withdraw US troops “very, very soon.” And at a gathering of Baltic leaders at the White House today, he expressed his desire to “get out” of the war-torn country and called on Saudi Arabia to help pay for the US military presence in the country. During his visit to the White House last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly asked Trump to keep US troops in Syria.
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