Questions have emerged in Washington over the future of America’s role in Syria after President Donald Trump noted progress in the fight against Islamic State and predicted a U.S. withdrawal from the Syrian conflict “very soon.”
In Syria, Islamic State has been rendered almost a non-factor in the country’s civil war, having lost vast swaths of territory, something Trump highlighted last week.
“And, by the way, we are knocking the hell out of ISIS and we will be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it,” said Trump, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.
The pronouncement seemed to take many in Washington, including State Department officials, by surprise.
“I do not know. I do not know,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert in response to a question. “I would have to refer you back to the White House.”
For Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the good news is Islamic State has lost control.
International security experts concur that IS is not the fighting force it once was, but challenges remain in Syria and beyond that the United States and its allies cannot ignore.
“As long as there are governments that are weak, ineffective, illegitimate in many cases, there will be opportunities for groups to use that territory for sanctuary and to conduct attacks in those countries and also use them for a launching pad externally,” said Jones. “In Syria, our estimates are still between 30 and 50 thousand jihadists that may move across the border into Turkey.”
For now, U.S. operations are continuing. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. military’s mission to defeat Islamic State “has not changed.”