US President Donald Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump is allowing the US military four months to gradually pull out of Syria, the New York Times reported Monday night.
The announcement is a significant shift from Trump's previous remarks saying he wanted the troops to pull out within 30 days. There are currently 2,000 United States troops in Syria.
The New York Times
report quoted anonymous administration officials who said that Trump had backtracked from his sudden order two weeks ago.
Trump hinted to the widespread criticism he has received for his decision, which was against the advice of his top advisors and army commanders on Twitter on Monday, saying that "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. ISIS is mostly gone, we're slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants."
Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned the day after Trump announced his decision. Both Republicans and Democrats, as well as international allies, condemned his decision to pull US troops out of Syria, saying that the US would lose influence in the region, where the Syrian civil war, in its eighth year, is still raging.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s December 19 announcement by warning that Israel could escalate its fight against Iran in Syria.
He addressed the issue at a weekly government meeting in Jerusalem shortly after the annnouncement,
“The decision to remove the 2,000 US troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to act against Iran’s attempt to establish military bases in Syria, and if necessary we will even expand our operations there.”
“I want to reassure the concerned – our cooperation with the United States continues in full force and is carried out in many areas: in the operational, intelligence and other security fields,” Netanyahu added.
Israeli officials have worked to calm fears that the move emboldens Iran and thus endangers Israel since Trump’s surprise announcement about Syria.
Resignation announcements in the wake of the decision
by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US top envoy leading the global coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, only served to underscore Israeli fears.
Mattis, who had been scheduled to visit Israel that week to discuss Iran, canceled his trip.
In Israel, top members of the Bayit Yehudi party, its leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Army Radio the move was bad for Israel but did not impact its security. Trump, they explained, was still seen as a strong ally of the Jewish statute.
Bennett said that the impact of the crippling sanctions the US imposed on Iran
were more effective in crippling Tehran’s aggressive behavior than the continued presence of US troops in Syria.
“We know how to protect ourselves,” Shaked said. The US withdrawal could lead to the transfer of more weapons to Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah from Iran, Shaked said, but “we will do everything we need to prevent Iran from gaining foothold in Syria.”
The withdrawal will also have a negative impact on the Kurdish militias in Syria, which have been leading the fight against the Islamic State, Shaked said. On Friday, Erdogan pledged to “eliminate” these Kurdish militias along with remaining ISIS fighters.
“The Kurds are great heroes,” she said, “and because of them, the West succeeded in its fight against ISIS. They are allies, and I hope that they will win in their battle against the Turks. I hope that the international community will prevent Erdogan from massacring the Kurds.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>