President Donald Trump this week called for all U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Syria, and Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the President’s decision on Thursday.
Breaking News: President Vladimir Putin of Russia praised President Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, calling it “the right decision.” https://t.co/jTbc7NUMdo
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 20, 2018
“Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” Putin said at his annual news conference, The New York Times reported Thursday morning, adding that U.S. forces were never invited and are actually in the country “illegally” in the first place.
Russian forces also maintain a presence in Syria. Where U.S. forces have supported the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS, Russian forces support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is often at odds with his own people and has been accused of attacking them with chemical weapons in the past.
The Latest: Putin welcomes U.S. decision to leave Syria. https://t.co/jhqhQb2afx
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 20, 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The Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon confirmed that U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Syria, but that the campaign against ISIS is not over.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.”
“For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details,” White pointed out, adding, “We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates.”
Trump had earlier declared in a tweet that the U.S. has defeated ISIS in Syria, declaring it a victory.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump wrote.
However, Putin on Thursday did point out that the United States has not actually withdrawn the troops yet, signaling that it’s unknown if or when it will take place.
“We don’t see any signs yet of the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” Putin said. “How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they’re pulling out their troops.”
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 abruptly ends 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. These plans completely blindsided politicians, allies and some U.S. officials.
A defense official had 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.
Trump has said in the past that he would like to withdraw all troops from Syria. But 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.