Trump may hit pause on Syria troop withdrawal, defends pullout

CNN's Barbara Starr reports.

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 6:01 AM
Updated: Jan 2, 2019 6:24 AM

President Donald Trump will give the Pentagon about four months to withdraw the nearly 2,000 military personnel stationed in Syria, The New York Times reported Monday, citing administration officials.

Trump told Lt. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, the head of US forces fighting ISIS in the region, during his trip to Iraq last week that troops could have several months to ensure a succinct departure, two US officials told the Times.

A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, told the Times on Monday, "I'll let the president's words speak for themselves."

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on the Times' story.

CNN has previously reported that a withdrawal of troops from Syria would take months because US commanders have said they need to move slowly in order to protect the troops.

Earlier Monday, Garrett Marquis, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told CNN that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Ambassador James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria engagement, would accompany national security adviser John Bolton on a trip to Israel and Turkey early next month to discuss the withdrawal.

"Ambassador John Bolton will travel to Israel and Turkey in early January to discuss the deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, and increased cooperation with the Turkish military and other partners," Marquis said in a statement, adding that Dunford and Jeffrey would be traveling with Bolton in Turkey.

Trump defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria in a series of tweets on Monday, saying he is "just doing what I said I was going to do" during his presidential campaign.

"... I campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places. Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Just doing what I said I was going to do!"

The President said in another tweet Monday morning, "If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero."

Trump's comments come a day after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the President, told reporters at the White House that Trump will reevaluate the withdrawal plan for Syria. The South Carolina senator told CNN later Sunday that the President had not reversed his Syria orders.

On Sunday, Graham said that during the President's surprise trip to Iraq last week, commanders on the ground informed Trump that ISIS is not "completely destroyed," which he said was an "eye-opening" experience for the commander in chief.

Still, Graham said, Trump remains committed to bringing American service members home, even as he continues to weigh the greater regional dynamics.

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