Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained Thursday that “there’s no contradiction whatsoever” in the shifting US strategy on Syria, despite mixed messages from the administration since President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would be withdrawing troops from the country.
“This is a story made up by the media. That’s fine, you all write what you like, but the President’s been very clear, and (national security adviser John) Bolton and I have been very clear about this too, that the threat from radical Islamic terrorism is real,” Pompeo said in Cairo. “ISIS continues – we fight them in many regions around the country. Our commitment to prevent Daesh’s growth, ISIS’ growth, is real. It’s important. We will continue at that.”
While analysts have underscored the impact the withdrawal decision has had on US allies, particularly the Kurds, and the potential benefits to Iran and Russia of an American pullback, none have suggested the threat from ISIS has dissipated and instead have stressed it continues to exist.
“We’re going to do it in a way in one particular place, Syria, differently,” Pompeo also said. “The United States’ decision, President Trump’s decision, to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that.”
Trump caused an uproar among US allies when he announced last month that ISIS had been defeated in Syria and that US troops would be “coming back now” from the country. Since then, Trump and his top advisers have qualified that declaration, and Bolton said Sunday that US forces wouldn’t leave until ISIS has been crushed and Kurdish fighters working with US troops are protected from Turkish attacks.
Bolton’s remarks earned a swift rebuke from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said the national security adviser had made a “serious mistake” and that Turkey would not compromise.
Pompeo said Thursday “it is possible to hold in your head the thought” that the US would withdraw uniformed troops while continuing its “crushing campaign” against ISIS.
“I’ve told each of the leaders here in the region that I’ve met that we’re committed to that,” he said.
Asked about disagreements with Turkey over the US Syria withdrawal commitments, Pompeo said that discussions were ongoing, noting that special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey was in the region.
“Our entire team is engaged and having the conversations about how we achieve all of the outcomes that are important there,” he said.
Pompeo is traveling to nine Middle Eastern countries this week to stress the US remains committed to the region, officials have said. In a gaggle with the traveling press at the outset of the trip, Pompeo denied that there was confusion from allies.
“Everyone we’ve communicated with, all the countries I’m going to visit to – we’ve communicated with all of our European allies. I think everyone understands what the United States is doing. At least the senior leaders in their governments do,” he said then.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.