For the first time, a senior U.S. military official has commented on President Trump’s late-December decision to quit Syria, confirming publicly that American troops are planning to leave once ISIS is defeated on the ground.
“We are determined to finish that off and then hand the battle off to our indigenous partners,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Wednesday.
His comments came hours after a suicide bomber killed four people in Manbij, Syria, including two U.S. troops, a Defense Department civilian, and one contractor. Three more were injured in the blast, for which ISIS declared responsibility.
Milley did not say when U.S. troops would leave Syria, but his characterization suggests a change of one mission goal for the Americans, who until Trump’s tweet last December were intending to remain in country until UN-brokered talks reached a peace deal in Geneva. The Trump administration had hoped to negotiate with Russia, Turkey, Iran, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and other NATO partners. The Army chief’s comment also suggests that mission would not include National Security Advisor John Bolton’s pledge, made last autumn, to keep U.S. troops in Syria as long as Iranian-backed foot soldiers remain there.