The US administration made a dramatic change in Syria policy on Wednesday, ordering the Pentagon to withdraw rapidly the 2,000 troops now stationed in the war-torn nation.
Multiple US news outlets reported the order on Wednesday morning, each citing comments from Defense Department officials.
The decision comes just days after the Pentagon stressed US troop presence in northeastern Syria in a warning against a new Turkish offensive in the region.
“Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern,” a Defense Department spokesman said one week ago.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled the possible change in US policy on Monday, saying that he received “positive answers” from President Donald Trump during a call last Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Erdogan said the Turkish army had completed planning and preparation for an offensive against US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria that could be launched “any time.”
It also comes after the US-led coalition said earlier this month that reports of a withdrawal amounted to a disinformation campaign.
“Any reports indicating a change in the US position with respect” to the US troop presence in Syria “is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos,” the coalition said in a statement.
Trump hailed what he called a “victory” over ISIS in a Tweet earlier on Wednesday, suggesting that the withdrawal was imminent.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The statement struck a decidedly different tone from top defense officials who have stressed recently that the US needed to remain in the country to train local forces to ensure an ISIS defeat.