One hundred percent of the territory that was under the control of Daesh terrorist group has been taken back by U.S.-backed forces, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
"Now it's 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate. That means the area, the land, we have 100 percent," Trump told troops at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. "We have the whole thing."
The president stopped at the base to refuel on his way back from a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"We did that in a much shorter time than it was supposed to be," Trump said.
The Trump administration, which abruptly announced in December that it was pulling out of Syria, said Thursday that it will keep 200 U.S. troops in the country for now.
"A small peace keeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a one-sentence statement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, applauded the president's decision to leave a few hundred as part of an "international stabilizing force."
Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by People's Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syrian wing of the internationally-recognized terrorist group PKK.
Trump announced in December that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Syria, saying that the only reason U.S. troops were in Syria was to defeat Daesh, which he said was accomplished.
Trump's swift decision sparked the resignation of his former Defense Secretary James Mattis and has raised a range of criticisms.
The development was quickly also interpreted as an intention to halt U.S. support for the SDF, which Washington has backed in its fight against Daesh, despite Ankara's strong objections.
Turkey has long criticized the U.S. for working with the terrorist YPG to fight Daesh in Syria, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.