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Pentagon confirms US troop drawdown in Syria and comments on ISIS

The Pentagon. (Senior Airman Perry Aston/Defense Department)
December 19, 2018

The Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon confirmed that U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Syria, but that the campaign against ISIS is not over.

“The #Coalition has liberated ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against #ISIS is not over,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White tweeted.

“We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from #Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign,” she continued.

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“For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details,” White pointed out.

She added, “We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates.”

President Donald Trump had tweeted earlier Wednesday that the U.S. has “defeated ISIS in Syria.”

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

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There had been reports earlier Wednesday that the U.S. military is preparing for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of more than 2,000 American service members in northeastern Syria, which would abruptly end the ground mission against ISIS there.

The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said that U.S. officials have begun informing their partners in Syria of plans to immediately withdraw U.S. troops.

A defense official confirmed to CNN that plans are underway for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The official told CNN that the decision was rendered by President Trump.

There are approximately 2,000 U.S. service members in Syria who mainly help train local soldiers, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to fight against ISIS.

U.S. troops have been in Syria fighting ISIS for more than four years.

While Trump has said in the past that he would like to withdraw all troops from Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this fall that troops would remain in Syria to complete their mission of defeating ISIS so the terrorist group cannot mount a comeback.

“Our troops are there for that one purpose right now,” Mattis said in September. “We obviously have got to train up local security forces, so that ISIS and others … cannot get in. That’s part of the defeat of ISIS.”

In April, Mattis had 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,” Reuters reported Wednesday.

There are more than 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, which neighbors Syria to the east.