Pentagon says U.S. policy on fighting Islamic State in Syria has not changed


By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. military policy towards fighting Islamic State militants in Syria remains the same following discussions with President Donald Trump this week, and the military has not been given a timeline for withdrawing troops, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer to defeat Islamic State but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Trump wants to ensure Islamic State militants are defeated but wants other countries in the region and the United Nations to step up and help provide stability in Syria, the official said.

Trump had signaled his desire to get U.S. forces out of Syria in a speech last week, and officials said he had privately been pressing for an early withdrawal in talks with his national security aides.

“We’ve always thought that as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there, so in that sense nothing actually has changed,” Marine Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing.

McKenzie said Trump has not given the U.S. military any timeline.

“… one of the things that we haven’t been given is a timeline and that is actually very effective … (The) president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline,” McKenzie said.

The United States is conducting air strikes in Syria and has deployed about 2,000 troops on the ground, including special operations forces whose advice has helped Kurdish militia and other U.S.-backed fighters capture territory from Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

The Pentagon and State Department have said a longer-term U.S. effort would be needed to ensure that Islamic State’s defeat is a lasting one.

The militant group is widely expected to revert to guerrilla tactics once the last remnants of its once self-styled “caliphate” are captured by U.S.-backed forces.

When asked whether the Pentagon would assist in stabilizing efforts, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said: “Our mission is a military mission, but we will always support and provide the conditions necessary for our diplomats to be successful.”

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Alexander; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)

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