Trump order US troops out of Syria after ISIS ‘defeat’
Some Republicans criticise decision, saying it will help Russia, Iran
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they have succeeded in their mission to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and were no longer needed there.
A decision to pull out completely, confirmed by US officials, coincides with the roughly 2,000 US troops finishing up a campaign to retake territory once held by ISIS militants.
But it could leave the US with few options to prevent a resurgence of ISIS. It could also undercut US leverage in the region and undermine diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian civil war, which is now in its eighth year.
"They are all coming back and they are coming back now. We won," Mr Trump said on Wednesday in a video on Twitter.
News of a full withdrawal drew criticism from some Republicans, who said leaving strengthened the hands of Russia and Iran - both support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It may also leave exposed an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which has been among the most effective against ISIS but is under threat as Turkey weighs a new offensive in Syria.
US commanders on the ground, who have developed strong ties to SDF leaders, had voiced concerns about what a fast withdrawal would mean for the US-backed forces and were surprised by the decision, US officials told Reuters.
But Mr Trump said he considered the mission in Syria over given ISIS territorial losses.
One US official said Washington aimed to withdraw troops within 60 to 100 days and said the US State Department was evacuating all its personnel in Syria within 24 hours. A second official said they could leave even sooner.
Some of Mr Trump's Republican allies in Congress railed against the pullout decision.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, often a Trump ally and generally a foreign policy hawk, said a withdrawal would have "devastating consequences" for the US in the region and throughout the world.
"An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Russia," Mr Graham said in a statement.
A British Defence Minister said he strongly disagreed with Mr Trump that ISIS had been defeated in Syria.
In Russia, Tass news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying withdrawing US troops from Syria created prospects for a political settlement. - REUTERS