Trump to decide ‘very quickly’ on US pullout from Syria

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President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he expects to decide “very quickly” whether to remove U.S. troops from war-torn Syria, saying their primary mission was to defeat the Islamic State group and “we’ve almost completed that task.” | AP Photo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he expects to decide “very quickly” whether to remove U.S. troops from war-torn Syria, saying their primary mission was to defeat the Islamic State group and “we’ve almost completed that task.”

A decision by Trump to withdraw from Syria would conflict with the views of his top advisers.

In fact, as Trump addressed reporters at the White House, the top U.S. general overseeing the anti-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq, and the State Department envoy for the anti-IS coalition, spoke elsewhere in Washington about what they said was the need to stay in Iraq and Syria to finish off the militant group, which once controlled large swaths of territory in both countries, and keep it from rising up again.

At a news conference Tuesday with the presidents of the Baltic nations, Trump was asked about his comment during a speech last week that “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”

“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS,” Trump answered, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “We’ve completed that task and we’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area as to what we will do.”

The mission is “very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us,” Trump said.

“I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation,” he said during the appearance with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Other high-ranking administration officials urged caution during a separate appearance in Washington.

Gen. Joseph Votel told a conference at the U.S. Institute for Peace that the United States would have to continue to work against remnants of the Islamic State group in eastern Syria. Votel is commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East, including Syria.

Votel said the military campaign has been largely successful but is not over.

“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues” like reconstruction of towns and cities badly damaged by the fighting and by the Islamic State group’s scorched-earth tactics. “There is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase.”

At the same event, State Department envoy Brett McGurk said, “We want to keep eyes on the prize, on ISIS, because ISIS is not finished.”

Trump’s national security team was to discuss Syria at a White House meeting later Tuesday.

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