WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria “over a period of time” and wants to protect the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops.
Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, which he announced last month against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S. allies participating in anti-Islamic State operations.
The decision prompted Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
During a Cabinet meeting at the White House in front of reporters, Trump said he had never discussed a reported four-month timetable for the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria amid a battle against Islamic State militants.
In recent days, Trump appeared to back off from any hasty pullout and stressed that the operation would be slow. “We’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting Isis [Islamic State] remnants,” he said on Twitter on Monday.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he came out of a lunch with Trump feeling reassured about the Syria policy.
Graham told reporters that Trump was committed to making sure Turkey did not clash with the Kurdish YPG forces once U.S. troops leave Syria, and was assuring the NATO ally that it would have a buffer zone in the region to help protect its own interests.
Turkey views the YPG as a branch of its own Kurdish separatist movement and is threatening to launch an offensive against the group, igniting fears of significant civilian casualties.
U.S. commanders planning the U.S. withdrawal are recommending that YPG fighters battling Islamic State be allowed to keep U.S.-supplied weapons, according to U.S. officials.
That proposal would likely anger Turkey, where Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, is expected to hold talks this week.