Uncertainty continues to loom over the future of U.S. military troops in Syria amid contradictory statements from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the White House.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of CENTCOM, which coordinates anti-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria, on Tuesday said there "are still some areas where Daesh terrorists are present," in a sign that the U.S. will not yet leave Syria
"The hard part is in front of us, stabilizing these areas, consolidating gains, getting people back into homes, addressing long-term issues of reconstruction," Votel said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Votel's remarks came shortly before U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria "very soon," and that he wants to "bring our troops back home."
"Our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of Daesh. We've almost completed that task," Trump said. "We'll be making a decision very quickly."
Meanwhile, the U.S. National Security Council made a decision on the future of U.S. troops in Syria, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said yesterday. According to Coats, the White House will announce the decision "relatively soon."
A senior White House official later said U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer but does not want a long-term commitment. The official added that Trump wants to ensure that Daesh is defeated and wants other countries in the region to step up and help provide stability in Syria. Trump recently said he wants to pull U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump's comments come amid talks between Turkish and U.S. officials over a road map for Manbij, including the withdrawal of the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) and the return of U.S. weapons provided to the group.
Turkish officials said earlier that they expect the U.S. to act in accordance with the common understanding reached by both sides. However, Ankara has been discontented by Washington's inconsistent policy on Syria and its reneged promises regarding ceasing support to the YPG. Ambiguous and contradictory remarks from U.S. foreign policymakers and CENTCOM officials on these two issues have become a serious matter of concern for Ankara.
In November, Trump promised to halt weapons deliveries to the YPG in Syria in a phone call with Erdoğan. However, a couple days after Trump's promise, the Pentagon sent 100 more armored vehicles and continued to deliver weapons thereafter to YPG-controlled areas in northern Syria.