Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, President Trump acknowledged that while Iran is also pulling people out of Syria, they “can frankly do whatever they want there.” He added that the he doesn’t want to be in Syria forever.
While this is likely intended more as a statement of fact than policy, it’s gaining a lot of attention, particularly in the international press. This is likely because the existing Pentagon narrative, before Trump ordered the pullout, was that Iran was a primary reason for the US to keep troops in Syria forever.
While US troops were sent to Syria to fight ISIS, as the defeat of ISIS grew near a lot of officials started shifting the narrative to one of forcing Iran out, which itself was defined broadly as expelling Shi’ite militias deemed friendly to Iran.
That broadening of the definition of Iran, which allowed Israel to at times claim preposterous numbers of “Iranian forces” in Syria, would also make Trump’s acknowledgement of an Iranian drawdown unusual. Though true, any number of actual Iranian advisers leaving Syria would be a trivially small percentage of the “Iranian forces” when one factors in vast militias from Iraq and Pakistan.
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