WASHINGTON: The United States has defeated Daesh in Syria, Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday, adding that it was the only reason he had kept troops in the country.
His comments came after US officials told Reuters on Wednesday that the US is considering a total withdrawal of US forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Daesh.
Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure Daesh cannot reemerge.
"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump wrote on Twitter.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The US president has previously expressed a strong desire to bring troops home from Syria when possible.
The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and US officials did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced.
The Pentagon declined to comment.
The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has contributed to the defeat of Daesh in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.
The deliberations on US troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, US 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 US troops from Syria would still leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.
Much of the US campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of bases and ships in the Middle East.
Still, Mattis and US State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million.
In April, Mattis 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.”
Daesh is also widely expected to revert to guerilla tactics once it no longer holds territory.
A US withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if Daesh reemerged.
Trump has previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of Daesh's’s advance into the country in 2014.