President Donald Trump has reportedly agreed to new objectives that will keep American troops on the ground in Syria indefinitely to ensure Iranian forces are driven out of the country and to maintain pressure on the Islamic State.
The new policy is in stark contrast to comments Trump made in April, when he said he wanted to “get out” of Syria and “bring our troops back home,” adding that the U.S is “very seriously” considering doing just that.
The Washington Post, citing senior State Department officials, reported Thursday that the renewed interest to keep the U.S. military in Syria comes amid concerns regarding Russia’s commitment to help expel Iran.
James Jeffrey -- a former U.S. ambassador who also served as a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush -- was recently appointed "special representative for Syrian engagement" by the Trump administration, and told the Post the U.S. is “no longer pulling out by the end of the year.”
The new goals of driving out Iran and creating a stable political environment “means we are not in a hurry,” Jeffery said, telling the paper the president had approved of what he defined as “a more active approach.”
“I am confident the president is on board with this,” he said.
America has roughly 2,000 troops and outposts in Syria.
President Trump on Wednesday warned the Syrian government that the U.S. will “get very angry” if it conducts a military offensive against the rebel-held Idlib– where an estimated three million civilians reside, many of them having fled previous fighting in the last rebel stronghold. The province also includes an estimated 10,000 hard-core fighters, including al-Qaida-linked militants.
“If it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry and the United States is going to get very angry, too." Trump said Wednesday during a White House meeting with the emir of Kuwait.
The U.S. and its allies have warned an Idlib offensive would trigger a humanitarian crisis and prompt western retaliation, especially with a chemical attack.
Jeffery noted that any type attack will not be accepted, “period.”
“Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation,” he said, including chemical weapons, causing refugee exodus or attacking innocent civilians.
“the consequences of that are that we will shift our positions and use all of our tools to make it clear that we’ll have to find ways to achieve our goals that are less reliant on the goodwill of the Russians,” Jeffery told the paper.
Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey are all slated to meet Friday in Tehran to discuss the situation in Syria, which may determine whether military action will be exercised in Idlib.
Each country has its own reasons for involvement in the yearlong conflict in Syria. Iran wants to maintain a presence in the region neighboring Israel and Lebanon, while Turkey fears a mass migration of refugees fleeing more violence and destabilization.
Russia wants to maintain its presence in the area to fill the void left by America's long uncertainty about what it wants in the conflict.
Jeffery also told the paper it is not the duty of the U.S to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad from office, while calling the administration’s broadened focus in the region a “new phase, where you have forces from the different countries facing each other,” opposed to pursuing their own goals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.