(CNSNews.com) – Despite blistering reaction from some senior Republican lawmakers, President Trump said Wednesday his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria now that “we have won against ISIS” would be what American warriors who have been killed in action would have wanted.
Trump’s unexpected announcement caused shockwaves, with even some lawmakers usually supportive of the president questioning the decision, warning that it would benefit Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and ISIS itself.
But he doubled down with a video message, posted on his Twitter feed.
In the clip Trump, speaking on the White House South Lawn, says his almost two-year-old administration had stepped up the fight in Syria, “and we have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly.”
“It’s time,” he said, “for our troops to come home.”
Trump then recounted the “heartbreaking” task of calling the loved ones of Americans killed while fighting for their country.
Referring to the fallen soldiers, Trump said, “they’re up there looking down on us, and there's nobody happier or more proud of their families to put them in a position where they’ve done such good for so many people.”
“So our boys, our young women, our men – they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” he said. “We won, and that’s the way we want it.”
“And,” Trump concluded, pointed upward in another evident reference to the fallen soldiers, “that’s the way they want it.”
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mostly supporting Kurdish and Arab allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting ISIS remnants in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.
Four U.S. military personnel have died in Syria since President Obama sent in the first 50 special operators in late 2015:
U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton, 42, of Woodbridge, Virginia, died of wounds sustained in an IED explosion in northern Syria on November 24 – Thanksgiving – in 2016.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Austin, Texas, died on March 30, 2018 as a result of injuries sustained in an IED blast in Manbij. The special operations soldier had been involved in a raid against ISIS at the time, and was killed along with a British soldier embedded with U.S. forces, Sgt. Matt Tonroe.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, 25, of Umatilla, Oregon, died on March 28, 2017, in northern Syria, in a non-combat-related incident while deployed in support of combat operations.
U.S. Army Spc. Etienne Murphy, 22, of Loganville, Georgia, died on May 26, 2017, in Al-Hasakah, of injuries sustained in a vehicle rollover incident.
Until very recently, Trump administration officials have said U.S. troops will remain in Syria after the defeat of the ISIS “caliphate” – while also tying their ongoing deployment to the presence of Iranian forces.
“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” the U.S. special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said at the State Department on December 11.
“It would be reckless if we were just to say, well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now,” McGurk said. “I think anyone who’s looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.”
“We’re not going to leave [Syria] as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said in New York in September.
“I think the president’s made it clear that we are there [in Syria] until the ISIS territorial caliphate is removed, and as long as the Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East,” Bolton said two months earlier, on the eve of Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Some GOP critics on Wednesday equated the planned troop withdrawal to Obama’s decision to pull all U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011.
“It’s replicating that, but in many ways it’s even worse,” retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters, adding that the decision “caught everybody off guard.”
“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“The last administration showed what happens when arbitrary political deadlines – rather than reality on the ground – dictate policy in war zones,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) “We must learn from the mistakes of the past, not repeat them.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said the fight was not over, and “a U.S. withdrawal will embolden bad actors.” He urged Trump to stop the plan and consult with Congress on a strategy that “denies a win for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and the Iranian mullahs.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the move “a big mistake” that adversaries would use “as evidence that America is an unreliable partner” – a decision that would “lead to grave consequences in the months and years to come.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) welcomed the news, however.
“The president has the courage to say, ‘We won in Syria, and we’re coming home,’” Paul said on the Senate floor. “First president in my lifetime really to do that.”
Bolton: US Troops Will Remain in Syria 'As Long As the Iranian Menace Continues' (Jul. 16, 2018)
Obama Sending 250 More US Troops to Syria (Apr. 24, 2016)
Obama in 2013: ‘I Will Not Put American Boots on the Ground in Syria’ (Apr. 26, 2016)