US president Donald Trump insisted Thursday that US forces would pull out of Syria ‘very soon’ and lamented what he said was Washington’s waste of $7 trillion in Middle East wars.
In a populist address to industrial workers in Ohio, Trump said US forces were close to securing all of the territory that the Islamic State jihadist group once claimed.
‘We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,’ he promised, to applause.
Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
‘Very soon – very soon we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it – sometimes referred to as ‘land’ – taking it all back quickly, quickly,’ he said.
‘But we’re going to be coming out of there soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.’
State department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked at a briefing if she was aware of any decision for the US to pull out of Syria.
She responded, ‘I am not, no. No.’
The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat the Islamic State group while trying to keep out of Syria’s broader civil war.
Trump’s eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson – who has since been sacked.
Tillerson argued that US forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and al-Qaeda from returning and to deny Iran a chance ‘to further strengthen its position in Syria.’
Meanwhile, France’s president on Thursday assured the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces of Paris’ support to stabilise northeastern Syria against Islamic State, and Kurdish officials said he had committed to sending troops to the region, reports Reuters.
Emmanuel Macron has been criticized at home over his response to a Turkish military operation against YPG militants. The group makes up a large portion of the SDF, which have been at the forefront of the US-led coalition’s strategy to defeat the hard-line militants.
Macron met earlier for the first time with a delegation that included the YPG, which Turkey is trying to sweep away from its border, its political arm the PYD, and Christian and Arab officials.
‘The president … paid tribute to the sacrifices and the determining role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh,’ Macron’s office said in a statement.
‘He assured the SDF of France’s support for the stabilization of the security zone in the north-east of Syria, within the framework of an inclusive and balanced governance, to prevent any resurgence of Islamic State.’
Former president Francois Hollande, who originally approved French support for the Kurds, bemoaned on March 23 Macron’s Syria policy, in particular his attitude to the YPG, accusing him of abandoning them.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state within Turkey.
France, like the United States, has extended arms and training to the YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State, and has dozens of special forces based in the region, which has infuriated Turkey.
Turkey stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin last week, and has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij where US troops are stationed.
Speaking to Reuters after the meeting with Macron, Khaled Eissa, a PYD member who represents the northern Syria region in Paris, said Macron had promised to send more troops to the area, provide humanitarian assistance and push a diplomatic solution.
‘There will be reinforcements to help secure from attacks by Islamic State and stop a foreign aggression,’ he said, referring to Turkey. ‘It’s message that this irresponsible action from the Islamists in Ankara stops.’
The French presidency declined to comment on whether Paris was sending troops. However, it said in the statement that Macron was offering to mediate between the two sides given that the SDF had distanced itself from the PKK.