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Syrian conflict

White House says US time in Syria is reaching ‘a rapid end’ after Donald Trump demanded exit - but when will they go?

The White House has offered no firm withdrawal timeline for the mission in Syria following Trump’s demand for an exit, as his team warn of a risk of militants’ re-emergence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 7:58am

The White House said Wednesday that the US military mission in Syria was coming to “a rapid end” but offered no firm timeline for a withdrawal, even as US President Donald Trump has insisted it is time for American troops to return home. 

A day after Trump said he wanted to “get out” of Syria, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the Islamic State group had been “almost completely destroyed” in the war-torn nation. 

Trump’s national security team has warned of the risk of the militants’ re-emergence and has urged the president against a hasty withdrawal. 

In a brief written statement, Sanders said the US and its partners were committed to eliminating “the small” IS presence not yet defeated by the American-led coalition. 

In a nod to Trump’s belief that the US is shouldering too much of the cost of stabilising Syria, Sanders suggested that US efforts in the country would not extend beyond the narrow mission of defeating the extremist group. 

“We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans,” Sanders said. “We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.”  

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The White House statement came the day after Trump met national security aides to discuss the future of the US role in Syria.

US President Donald Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep US troops in Syria a little longer but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Trump did not approve a specific withdrawal timetable at Tuesday’s meeting, the official said.

He wants to ensure Islamic State militants are defeated but wants other countries in the region and the United Nations to step up and help provide stability in Syria, the official said.

“We’re not going to immediately withdraw but neither is the president willing to back a long-term commitment,” the official said.

Trump had signalled his desire to get US forces out of Syria in a speech last Thursday in Ohio, and officials said he had privately been pressing for an early withdrawal in talks with his national security aides.

“We were very successful against (Islamic State). We’ll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it’s time to come back home, and we’re thinking about that very seriously,” Trump told a news conference on Tuesday with Baltic leaders.

His advisers have been pressing him to maintain at least a small force in Syria to ensure the militants are defeated and prevent Iran from gaining an important foothold.

The United States is waging air strikes in Syria and has deployed about 2,000 troops on the ground, including US special operations forces whose advising has helped Kurdish militia and other US-backed fighters capture territory from Islamic State.

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US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US troops in the Middle East as the head of Central Command, estimated on Tuesday that more than 90 per cent of the group’s territory in Syria had been taken back from the militants since 2014.

In the National Security Council meeting, Trump made clear that he did not want to stay in Syria for a lengthy period. 

The senior official said the impression Trump left was that he would like to withdraw in a year or less.

“He’s not going to tolerate several years to a half decade,” the official said.

Brett McGurk, the US special envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, speaking alongside Votel at an event in Washington on Tuesday, said the US fight against Islamic State, also known as IS, was not over.

“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission and our mission isn’t over and we are going to complete that mission,” McGurk said.