Update: At this point, "walking back the president's controversial statements" should be included in all job descriptions for positions in the White House press office.
In a statement released late Wednesday morning following reports that Trump had told generals to start preparing for withdrawal, Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement that appeared to soften Trump's demands that we immediately withdraw, while still leaving the possibility of a withdrawal in the not-too-distant future on the table. In the statement, Huckabee said that the White House "will continue to consult with our allies and friends" about its plans for a withdrawal without offering a concrete timetable.
Where we are on Trump & #Syria :— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) April 4, 2018
•No decision to withdraw
•Eventually get out
•Stay to finish ISIS
•Get others to pay more
A perfect Trump dynamic
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"The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated. We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges."
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Just hours after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Pentagon press corp that a "decision was made" regarding the future of US troops in Syria, the Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump has instructed the military to begin planning to withdraw US troops.
Though no date has been set for the withdrawal, and Trump reportedly told officials that US troops could be involved in training tasks for local troops to ensure security in liberated areas during a meeting Tuesday, he said that the US mission wouldn't extend beyond the destruction of the Islamic State. The group has relinquished all of its territory in Syria and has largely retreated from its so-called caliphate.
According CNN, last week, President Trump surprised the Pentagon by saying the US would wind down its operations in Syria, outraging the interventionist establishment in the process. Sen. Lindsey Graham even raged that pulling out US forces could "destabilize the region" and that it'd be "the single worst decision the president could make."
He again surprised the Pentagon by doubling-down on his plans during a Tuesday press conference.
"Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out. We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be."
Officially, the US has only 500 troops on the ground in Syria (at least that's the Pentagon line). However, late last year, a senior military commander accidentally admitted that the real number of US troops on the ground is closer to 4,000, per the Washington Post.
Last year, Foreign Policy reported that the Pentagon had "no plans" to withdraw troops from Iraq and Iran despite the (Russia-aided) collapse of ISIS's co-called caliphate. Generals said the military didn't want to pull out before a "diplomatic plan" had been established. But a lot has changed since then.
Meanwhile, Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition against ISIS, told the same forum that the struggle in Syria was far from over, per Reuters.
"We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission, and our mission isn't over, and we are going to complete that mission," McGurk said.
Of course, in the Trump administration, nothing is certain until it is done, and there's plenty of reason to doubt that the withdrawal will happen, despite Trump's order. Trump ultimately backed off on troop withdrawals in Afghanistan last year, instead authorizing 4,000 additional troops to be deployed.
But assuming it goes through - and the shift comes at a sensitive time for Trump who has recently lost support of much of his base with the decision to cave on the border wall - it would represent an unprecedented rebuke to the military, not to mention Trump's defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, who has said recently that US troops would remain on the ground in Syria for the foreseeable future.
Could Trump soon see the deep state and the military aligned against him?
Meanwhile, Coats added that the US has promised to take "additional measures" to stop malign Russian activities and defend the 2018 US Congressional elections, even though almost two years later, the US has yet to produce proof that Russia intentionally swayed the 2016 vote.