U.S. President Donald Trump (R) embraces Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump indicated this weekend that some US troops in Syria would remain there “to protect Israel,” in an apparent shift from his earlier insistence on an absolute withdrawal.
In an interview with Margaret Brennan of CBS News, Trump was pressed to identify precisely how much of America’s force presence there would be coming home – and how quickly.
“We’re going to be there and we’re going to be staying. We have to protect Israel,” he replied. “We have to protect other things that we have. But we’re – yeah, they’ll be coming back in a matter of time.”
“Look, we’re protecting the world,” he added. “We’re spending more money than anybody’s ever spent in history, by a lot.”
Israeli officials expressed alarm
in December at Trump’s surprise decision to pull all 2,000 US troops from the Syrian battlefield
, where it sees Iranian presence growing ever closer to its northern border.
They have been pushing the Trump administration to maintain a presence at al-Tanf in eastern Syria, which has served as an important base both in countering Islamic State fighters as well as Iranian influence.
Trump also revealed that he planned on keeping troops in Iraq for similar reasons.
“I want to be able to watch Iran,” he said. “Iran is a real problem.”
He claimed to Brennan that “99%” of ISIS’s territory had been conquered.
“When I took over, Syria was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS, and you have the caliphate almost knocked out,” he said. “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100% of the caliphate, which is the area – the land – the area – 100. We’re at 99% right now. We’ll be at 100.”