President Donald Trump has told his national security team that he is willing to keep American forces in Syria in the short-term, but made it known he wants US troops to exit soon in a meeting on Tuesday, a senior administration official told CNN.
Trump has said publicly that he’s ready to withdraw troops from Syria, but his top military commanders have argued the battle against ISIS is not yet complete.
“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday. “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,” the statement said. “We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.”
Trump said during the session on Tuesday that he wants to defeat ISIS but that the costs of stabilizing Syria must be borne by regional players.
CNN reported earlier that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a breakfast with reporters that a decision was made Tuesday at the White House over whether to withdraw from Syria.
In the meeting with his national security team, Trump maintained his position that US troops should soon leave Syria, and told the assembled advisers that he was firm in his commitment to withdrawing American forces, according to the senior administration official.
At the same time, he acknowledged that US troops would need to remain in the country as plans for withdrawal are made and as the battle against ISIS continues.
He told the military leaders present to begin making plans for withdrawal, though he didn’t advise them on how long that planning should take.
The advisers told Trump that ISIS isn’t fully defeated in Syria, and he acknowledged that US troops would need to remain in the country for at least some time longer.
But he wasn’t deterred from his position that US troops must leave soon.
Trump surprised military leaders last week when he said the US would “be coming out of Syria like very soon,” just hours after the Pentagon highlighted the need for US troops to remain in the country for the immediate future.
Senior administration officials have been discussing for some time the way ahead in Syria and what conditions would need to be met to permit a US withdrawal, a US defense official directly familiar with the ISIS campaign told CNN last week, but added that while Trump could decide at any time to pull out, military commanders were not recommending that course of action at this time.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed reporting