US to Keep a Few Hundred US Forces in Syria Though Focus Will Shift to Training

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford speak with reporters Friday outside the Pentagon. Staff photo by Brian Everstine.

The US is reportedly planning to leave about 400 peacekeeping forces inside Syria in what is now a reduction in forces as opposed to a full withdrawal, a move the top US military officer said is not a change in the main overall anti-ISIS fight.

An administration official told Reuters the US now plans to keep 400 forces in a safe zone inside northeastern Syria and the main base at al-Tanf, though White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said the number was closer to 200. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Friday declined to talk specific numbers.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaking alongside Shanahan, said the change is “about campaign continuity.”

“We always had planned to transition into a stabilization phase where we train local forces to provide local security to prevent the regeneration of ISIS, so there’s no change in the basic campaign,” Dunford told reporters Friday afternoon outside the Pentagon. “The resources are being adjusted because the threat has changed.”

Dunford added that he expects allies to stay in the campaign and keep their own forces deployed for the training and peacekeeping mission.

“Our mission remains unchanged in terms of the defeat of ISIS,” Shanahan said during the meeting, per a pool report. “The transition that we are working towards is stabilization and to enhance the security capability of local security forces. We’ll do that as strategic partners.”

President Trump in December tweeted that the US had defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria, and would be withdrawing from the country. In the State of the Union address earlier this month, he added that “it is time to give our brave warriors … a warm welcome home.”

Shanahan and Dunford were meeting Friday with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at the Pentagon to discuss the future of the campaign, and how the US would work together and deconflict operations in the region.