The White House confirmed Wednesday that it has started withdrawing US troops from Syria, following reports that the US was considering a complete withdrawal from the country.
“We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a statement.
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” Sanders said. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign.”
She added that the US and its allies “will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”
A US official told Reuters that all State Department personnel in Syria will be evacuated from the country within 24 hours, and that all US forces will depart within 60 to 100 days, once the final operation against ISIS has been completed.
US President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon that his only reason to have US troops in Syria was to defeat ISIS, a mission which he said the US has accomplished.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
According to Reuters, the United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which is led by Kurdish YPG forces.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blasted the US presence in Syria at a news briefing.
“From being a factor in the fight against terrorism, the illegal American presence in Syria is becoming a dangerous obstacle to the path to a settlement,” she said.
The US move comes as Turkey threatens a new offensive in Syria against US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to attack the YPG Kurdish militia operating east of the Euphrates River. The YPG has been battling ISIS with the assistance of the US.