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story.lead_photo.caption WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops in Syria, according to a U.S. official, as the White House declared victory Wednesday in the mission to defeat Islamic State militants there.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, officials announced Wednesday as the president suddenly declared victory over the Islamic State, contradicting his own experts' assessments and sparking surprise and outrage from his party's lawmakers who called his action rash and dangerous.

The U.S. began airstrikes in Syria in 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year to battle the Islamic State, or ISIS, and train Syrian rebels in a country torn apart by civil war. Trump abruptly declared their mission accomplished in a tweet.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," he said as Vice President Mike Pence met with top leaders at the Pentagon. U.S. officials said many details of the troop withdrawal had not yet been finalized, but they expect American forces to be out by mid-January.

Later Wednesday, Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he said is "heartbreaking" to have to write letters and make calls to the loved ones of those killed in battle. "Now it's time for our troops to come back home," he said.

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Trump made the decision based on his belief that U.S. troops have no role in Syria beyond combatting Islamic State, whose fighters are now believed to hold about 1 percent of the territory they did at the peak of their power.

The president informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his decision in a telephone call, the official said. Turkey has recently warned that it would launch combat operations across its southern border into northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces who have been allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State.

Trump's declaration of victory was far from unanimous, and officials said U.S. defense and military leaders were trying to dissuade him from ordering the withdrawal right up until the last minute. His decision immediately triggered demands from Congress — including leading Republicans — for more information and a formal briefing on the matter. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, just returned from Afghanistan, said he was meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis late in the day.

Graham, typically a Trump backer, said he was "blindsided" by the report and called the decision "a disaster in the making." He said, "The biggest winners in this are ISIS and Iran."

The decision will fulfill Trump's long-stated goal of bringing troops home from Syria, but military leaders have pushed back for months, arguing that the IS group remains a threat and could regroup in Syria's long-running civil war. U.S. policy has been to keep troops in place until the extremists are eradicated.

The senior administration official said American forces would still work with allies to fight the Islamic State or other extremists in the country but gave no details on what that might entail.

Another official said it still is not clear to defense leaders whether U.S. airstrikes against IS insurgents will continue in Syria after the American troops leave. U.S. military officials worry that American-backed Kurdish troops will be targeted by Turkey and the Syrian government, leaving no ally on the ground to help direct the strikes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains concerned about Iranian efforts in the area, reacted in noncommittal fashion after talking with Trump by telephone.

"This is, of course, an American decision," he said. No matter what, he said, "we will safeguard the security of Israel and protect ourselves from this arena."

Leading Republican senators reacted with displeasure to the news.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the withdrawal would be a "grave error" and that Kurdish fighters will stop fighting the Islamic State when they must confront Turkish troops crossing the border into Syria.

"This is a bad idea because it goes against the fight against ISIS and potentially helps ISIS," he said, warning it could trigger a broader conflict in the region.

Just last week, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said U.S. troops would remain in Syria even after the Islamic State was driven from its strongholds.

"I think it's fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring," McGurk told reporters on Dec. 11. "Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign."

And two weeks ago Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. still has a long way to go in training local Syrian forces to prevent a resurgence of IS and stabilize the country. He said it will take 35,000 to 40,000 local troops in northeastern Syria to maintain security over the long term, but only about 20 percent of that number have been trained.

Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said in September that the U.S. would keep a military presence in Syria as long as Iran was active there. "We're not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias," he said.

James Stavridis, a former Navy admiral who served as top NATO commander, tweeted Wednesday that "Pulling troops out of Syria in an ongoing fight is a big mistake. Like walking away from a forest fire that is still smoldering underfoot. Big winner is Iran, then Russia, then Assad. Wrong move."

The withdrawal decision, however, is likely to be viewed positively by Turkey, and comes following several conversations between Trump and Erdogan over the past several weeks. The two spoke at the G-20 summit in Argentina and in a phone call last Friday.

Erdogan said Monday he had gotten "positive answers" from Trump on the situation in northeast Syria where he has been threatening a new operation against the American-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Just hours before the withdrawal decision became public, the State Department announced late Tuesday that it had approved the sale of a $3.5 billion Patriot missile defense system to Turkey. The Turks had complained that the U.S. was slow walking requests for air defenses, and they had signed a deal with Russia to buy a sophisticated system in a deal that Washington and Ankara's other NATO partners strongly opposed.

Completion of that deal with Russia for the S-400 system would have opened up Turkey to possible U.S. sanctions and driven a major wedge between the allies. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the Patriot sale and the decision on U.S. troops.

Although the withdrawal decision doesn't signal an end to the American-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State, it will likely erode U.S. leadership of that 31-nation effort. The administration had been preparing to host a meeting of coalition foreign ministers early next year.

"The bottom line is that the American withdrawal from eastern Syria will create a power vacuum that will lead to a new phase of international conflict in Syria," said Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert at the Institute for the Study of War.

She predicted that the Russians, the Iranians, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Turks will compete for the terrain and resources previously under U.S. control "at the expense of" the Syrian Kurds who have partnered with U.S. forces against IS.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments

  • 23cal
    December 19, 2018 at 10:08 a.m.

    Well, that certainly fulfills a major goal of Syria, Iran and Russia and risks diminishing US influence in the region.
    Apparently, Putin's asset is following his orders. Does this mean Donnie will get his Moscow Tower deal?
    You know, the one he denied was in the works in 2016 and for which it turns out he signed a letter of intent to do in 2015?
    Yeah, that one.

  • 23cal
    December 19, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    By the way, from CNN "The US-led coalition recently denied any change to the US presence in Syria.
    "Any reports indicating a change in the US position with respect" to the US military presence in Syria "is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos," the coalition said in a statement earlier this month."
    *
    Once again, Donnie has shown that under his leadership the word of the US isn't worth spit. Whether on trade agreements, nuclear agreements, climate change agreements.......no respect whatsoever for agreements and promises made.
    *
    Which isn't typical of America, but is very typical of frauds, con men, grifters, and dishonest liars.

  • GeneralMac
    December 19, 2018 at 10:36 a.m.

    23Cal longs for the days of a US leader who stood tough on Syria.

    Barack HUSSEIN Obama boldly drew a " line in the sand" then sprinted backwards when the line got crossed.

  • hogfan2012
    December 19, 2018 at 10:41 a.m.

    If O-Bummer had done this, you people would be saying he is the greatest President ever for trying to remove our troops.

  • Nodmcm
    December 19, 2018 at 11:46 a.m.

    I will say its great that our troops are coming home from the last war in the Middle East we have been engaged in fighting. We began losing American soldiers in 1983 in Lebanon (Reagan), continued to lose soldiers in Iraq (Bush, Sr.), lost more soldiers in Iraq (Bush, Jr.), then lost some in Syria before it was all over today (Obama, Trump). None of our fighting got us anywhere but deeper in debt, and we lost fine Americans in these forlorn military engagements. Probably America is more hated in the Middle East today than it was before our Middle-Eastern military mishaps began. Good riddance! Next war, let's let the Navy fight it from ballistic missile subs deep in the ocean.

  • Nodmcm
    December 19, 2018 at noon

    Oops! Republicans are now saying President Trump has made a mistake in withdrawing troops from Syria, claiming ISIS has not been defeated and that the military should stay in Syria. Even if President Trump is a secret (well, not anymore) Russian agent working for Vlad Putin, it is still better for our nation to get completely out of the Middle East. So you see, even a blind squirrel, or not-so-secret Russian spy leading America, can find an acorn or make a good decision, respectively. Maybe Trump did it to help Putin and Russia, which is the wrong reason, but its the right result.

  • mrcharles
    December 19, 2018 at 2:04 p.m.

    "An American withdrawal [from Syria] at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world," Graham said in a statement.

    GM, & hogfarmer, you two have to make up your mind, are you aginn this or for this regardless of doing a sean hannity "look at the car chase" response. Just being nonsensical is not a yes or no, have some gonads and just make an honest answer to a position of DT.

    Happy holidays!

  • Jfish
    December 19, 2018 at 2:54 p.m.

    Agree with Hogfan, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Just because the withdrawal is happening under Trump, does not mean it is a bad thing.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    December 19, 2018 at 2:54 p.m.

    I thought US troops were in Syria as part of a UN coalition "only " to destroy ISIS's caliphate.???
    according to a US news release in september of this year the caliphate had been destroyed. with a few remaining ISIS followers in eastern Syria. and a few spread out in Africa but their leadership has apparently collapsed with the terrorists being rudderless President Trump campaigned on destroying ISIS and bringing home our men and women from the middle east including the hell hole Afghanistan where we've lost blood and treasure for seventeen long miserable years with no end in sight. with both Iran and Russia ready and willing to take over land through the middle east either physically or by proxy. what is America's long term goal in that part of the world ? I know protect our financial interests along with Israel. Bring our boys home! leave the camels and the sand fleas to the knaves that live to hate and kill each other.

  • SeanJohn
    December 19, 2018 at 4:51 p.m.

    23CAL, out of curiosity, what was your position when Obama drew down troop support in Iraq? Not knowing of course that ISIS would emerge as the minor league player, as Obama called them? Was it a good thing THEN, or a bad thing?
    *
    Nod, I haven't done any research, but I don't think many soldiers were killed during Operation Desert Storm under Bush Sr. That short war consisted primarily of battles in Kuwait. The Iraqis were in full retreat when they got into Iraq. I think it was between 300-400 soldiers killed in that war. Pick on Bush Jr all you want. I never agreed with Operation Iraqi Freedom. Also, are you saying the next time we fight in the Middle East we should nuke them from submarines? You sound more like a right wing Republican in that regard.
    *
    Hogfan, they did say Obama was the best president ever when he pulled troops from Iraq. Look how that turned out. I say to hell with the Middle East. Let 'em all blow their brains out. Fighting and killing is all they know. It's their culture. It's what tribes do. They can't agree with one another, much less us infidels.

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