Last week President Trump told an audience in Ohio, as an aside, that U.S. troops would leave Syria “like, very soon.” This was news to his national-security team, as the U.S. military was, at about the same time, reportedly planning to send dozens more troops to the country. Certainly Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, did not indicate plans to leave soon when he said Tuesday: “We are in Syria to fight ISIS, that is our mission, and our mission isn’t over, and we’re going to complete that mission.”
As McGurk was making those remarks, a few miles away, his boss, the president, reiterated: “I want to get out—I want to bring our troops back home. It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS.”
So are troops leaving soon, or aren’t they? Is the mission to fight ISIS over, or isn’t it? These should be straightforward questions to answer, yet a statement the White House issued on Wednesday, ostensibly to clear things up, left some ambiguity intact. Here it is in full:
The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated. We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.
In other words, the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops who are in Syria will remain to fight the remnants of ISIS. For how long is anyone’s guess.