President Donald Trump falsely claimed on Thursday that the United States has no troops in Syria.
Trump was defending his decision to remove American troops from a part of northern Syria that Turkey wanted to attack. Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn, Trump asserted, “We have no soldiers in Syria.”
“We’ve won, we beat ISIS, and we beat ‘em badly and decisively. We have no soldiers. The last thing I want to do is bring thousands and thousands of soldiers in and defeat everybody again. We’ve already done that,” Trump said.
Facts First: The US still has about 1,000 soldiers in Syria, military officials have told CNN and other news outlets, and the troops Trump removed from the area of the Turkish incursion offensive were not removed from the country.
Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.” Less than an hour after Trump made his Thursday claim that there are “no soldiers in Syria,” a senior State Department official told reporters that the US military mission in Syria is ongoing.
“We had and still have a significant military mission there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, also to maintain the stability of northeast Syria and the region given our other critical missions in the Near East,” the official said on a conference call conducted on condition of anonymity.
Less than an hour before the false “no soldiers in Syria” claim to reporters, Trump had tweeted that we “no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria.” That narrower claim about the particular “area under attack” is correct.
Trump made the false claim when he was asked which of the three options he had just tweeted – “Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds” – he thinks he will choose.
He said he hopes to be able to mediate a deal. He added later: “I don’t think the American people want to see us go back in with our military, go back in to that area again. We won, we left the area, I don’t think we want to go back in. Let’s see what happens.”
A vow not yet kept
It is obviously noteworthy when the President claims there are not American troops in a country where there are about 1,000 American troops. It is especially noteworthy because Trump declared nearly 10 months ago that he would be immediately withdrawing all US troops from Syria.
“So our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now,” he said in a tweeted video message in December. “We won, and that’s the way we want it, and that’s the way they want it.”
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.