President Donald Trump has agreed to keep about 400 US troops in Syria after the withdrawal of most US forces there this spring, a senior administration official said Friday.
Trump agreed on Thursday to keep about 200 US troops as part of a planned multinational force that would maintain a safe zone in northeastern Syria, the official said. This force would be in addition to the 200 troops the US is planning to maintain after the withdrawal at its base in al-Tanf, Syria.
Trump had ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops Syria in December 2018 after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants in Syria.
Despite the shift, Trump told reporters on Friday “I’m not reversing course” on Syria, arguing the remaining troops would be “a very small, tiny fraction” of the forces who would ensure that Islamic State does not regroup.
The US and NATO allies are in the process of assembling what officials are calling a “monitoring and observer” force of roughly 800 to 1,500 troops to maintain a safe zone in northeastern Syria. The goal of the force would be to maintain a buffer between Turkey and US-allied Syrian opposition forces to ensure that neither side carries out attacks on the other.
A US defense official said the force would also have the aim of preventing an ISIS resurgence in northeast Syria though it is not clear whether they would be involved in training or advising local forces as part of this effort.
The US initially planned only to provide air support – not ground troops – to the observer force, but NATO allies objected and said they would not contribute troops toward such a mission without a US troop commitment, the official said.