President Trump is still very clear he wants US troops out of Syria, and has even ordered commanders to quickly wrap up military operations in the country. It doesn’t seem to be happening, however, as White House officials have been feverishly backpedaling from the president’s comments.
President Trump was said to have been pushing for a withdrawal for months behind the scenes, and comments over the past week seemingly made that formal policy. Though Trump advisers are said to have drawn up plans for a pullout, they proposed an alternative plan to Trump, where they don’t leave at all.
White House indications are that Trump isn’t getting his way, and that instead the US is going to just stay in Syria to “eliminate the small ISIS presence” that yet remains. Since the US hasn’t been fighting ISIS on the ground in quite some time, there’s no timetable for that.
Administration officials seem to be eager to present this as something short of overruling Trump, which legally they couldn’t actually do. Still, without the timetable it’s a distinction without much of a difference, and the troops are just stuck in Syria.
It could be for quite some time, too, as the idea of totally eliminating ISIS isn’t particularly realistic on any time scale. The group’s fighters have mostly fled into the desert and spread out since the loss of their territory, and there will likely always be a case to be made that some of the fighters are left.
That means that, while presenting this as a minor hitch in Trump’s pullout, it could effectively be presented as defaulting back to the old position of the Pentagon, that the troops in Syria are there in an open-ended way.