The planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria will depend on a number of conditions including an agreement that Turkish forces won’t attack Syrian Kurdish forces, national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday.
Speaking to reporters while visiting Jerusalem, Bolton described the Syria withdrawal as a “cause and effect mission,” adding officials are setting a “policy decisions that we need to implement” before the process is completed.
“Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. And once that’s done, then you talk about a timetable,” said Bolton, who met with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bolton added the effort will not be a complete withdrawal, but will rather focus on northeastern Syria where most of the estimated 2,000 troops are located while leaving some in southern Syria.
“It’s going to be a different environment after we leave, there is no question about that,” Bolton said. “But there is no desire to see Iran’s influence spread that’s for sure.”
He also said the United States would keep some troops stationed at a key base in Al Tanf, which was originally used as a base to train fighters against the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, but has since become pivotal for the United States to combat Iranian influence in Syria.
“Then there is the Al Tanf garrison, which is still very strategically important in connection with our determination that Iran not achieve this arc of control stretching from Iran through Iraq into Lebanon and into Syria,” Bolton said.
Trump originally announced the Pentagon would carry out a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on Dec. 19, stating “we have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of many in Washington who opposed the decision said Trump had agreed to slow down plans to remove troops from Syria commanders on the ground informed the president the Islamic State hadn’t been “completely destroyed” on a trip to Iraq.
An official traveling with Bolton said there is no timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, but Trump had been assured “this can be done in weeks.” Bolton didn’t offer his own timeline for the withdrawal, but added that “doesn’t mean it’s unlimited.”
Bolton warned Turkey against taking any military action in Syria without consent from the U.S., ahead of his planned trip to the country Monday.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States, at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered,” he said.
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