Pentagon Says Full Syria Withdrawal Many Years Off

US troops can't leave any time soon

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley predicted that the US will continue to have troops inside Syria for many years, and that it is “hard to foresee anytime soon” when the US might leave.

The two told the committee that this presence continued to be about the ISIS threat, and that it would be a long time before regional forces in Syria could fight on their own. It’s not clear what regional forces are even being referred to, as the US troops are centered in a very small area at this point.

Moreover, the US presence in Syria has not been presented by the administration as being about ISIS for months, with President Trump insisting ISIS was long defeated. Pentagon officials have continued to cite ISIS because the administration’s alternative is a tough pill to swallow.

President Trump now insists that the US war in Syria is exclusively about oil, and the only reason US troops are in Syria is to take Syrian oil with the help of US oil companies to be named later. President Trump has repeatedly reiterated this stance, despite military officials trying to make the war about something else.

As a practical matter, either military goal, or any combination of the two, is going to be similarly an open-ended military adventure, as there is no sign of ISIS being any more defeated, nor of a single drop of oil coming out of US-occupied Syria, any time soon.

Defense Secretary Esper said ideology would make it difficult to defeat ISIS fully. Gen. Milley predicted the reemergence of ISIS if the US left Syria, even though there is no sign the US is doing anything to fight them, or indeed doing anything at all apart from waiting for a hypothetical situation where oil starts being produced.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.