Monday 23 July 2018

US troops to stay in Syria to finish off Isil - despite Trump pushing to bring them home

A US military base in the al-Asaliyah village, between Aleppo and the northern town of Manbij, earlier this month. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
A US military base in the al-Asaliyah village, between Aleppo and the northern town of Manbij, earlier this month. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Ben Riley-Smith and Josie Ensor

US trioops will remain in Syria for now to finish off Isil, the White House said yesterday, despite Donald Trump, the US president, pushing for them to return home.

The United States remains "committed" to defeating the small amount of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) fighters "not already eradicated", a statement confirmed.

However, the White House also said that the mission "is coming to a rapid end" and that countries in the region must help ensure Isil does not re-emerge in the future.

Mr Trump has made public his desire to "get out" of Syria, even suggesting that Saudi Arabia should pay if it wants the US to remain involved.

However, US generals have said that the "hard part" in the battle against Isil is still to come, and fear a resurgence of the group should the US disengage.

A string of military victories over Isil has seen a dramatic fall in the amount of land it controls.

A carefully worded statement from Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, indicated that US soldiers would be remaining in Syria, while insisting the end of fighting was drawing near.

"The military mission to eradicate Isis in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with Isis being almost completely destroyed," Ms Sanders said, using an alternative name for Isil.

"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.

"We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that Isis never re-emerges."

A White House official confirmed that troops would remain in Syria for now. Around 2,000 US soldiers are based in the country.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump reiterated his desire for the troops to return home, saying that the military mission was "close to 100pc" complete.

"I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation," Mr Trump said in a press conference.

He added: "It's time. We were very successful against Isis, we will be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it's time to come back home."

Mr Trump said the US had got "nothing except death and destruction" from the trillions of dollars it has spent in the Middle East in the past 17 years.

He also said his message to Saudi Arabia was: "If you want us to stay, maybe you're going to have to pay."

But in a sign of conflicting views in the Trump administration, General Joseph L Votel, the head of the US Central Command, said that "the hard part, I think, is in front of us" when it comes to defeating Isil.

The anti-Isil campaign, led by US-backed local Arab and Kurdish militias, has been largely suspended since mid-February, after the Kurdish fighters left to defend the city of Afrin from a Turkish assault.

With the operation in disarray and no clear stabilisation plan, there is a risk a resurgent Isil could take advantage of the vacuum.

One senior Kurdish source said: "So the Americans work with us when they need something and then leave us to deal with the consequences?

"That doesn't sound like an ally to me. If Daesh [Isil] returns, we can't say we didn't warn them."

The Trump administration said last night it was working with governors to "immediately" deploy the National Guard to combat illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security, said her department and the Pentagon would work closely with governors in the affected states, and that troops could begin heading to the border straight away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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