Pentagon officials visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to reassure lawmakers amid confusion over plans to implement President Donald Trump’s order for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria — but some Democrats and Republicans were left unsatisfied.
The Defense Department’s undersecretary for policy, John Rood, and Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke, director for strategy, plans, and policy for the Joint Staff, gave the Senate Armed Services Committee a classified briefing that emphasized the withdrawal’s deliberate pace and the ongoing U.S. support for the Kurdish and Arab militias working alongside American troops since 2015.
The briefing came as Trump is widely seen as backtracking on his surprise Dec. 19 decision to pronounce the Islamic State group defeated and start a “rapid withdrawal” of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The move sparked criticism from GOP lawmakers and was followed by the resignation of both Jim Mattis as defense secretary and Brett McGurk as the U.S. envoy to forces fighting ISIS.
The plan fell into further disarray after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet with national security adviser John Bolton during the U.S. official’s visit to Ankara. Erdogan dismissed Bolton’s demand that Turkey assure the safety of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters. Erdogan said Bolton had made a “grave mistake” in setting that condition for the pullout of troops.