Bolton announced the US will not withdraw troops from Syria until ISIS is defeated and Turkey commits to protecting the US's Kurdish allies in the country.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on January 7, 2019

The withdrawal from Syria was initially expected to be completed in a matter of weeks, but the White House has since backtracked on such a quick exit.

When he initially announced the withdrawal on 19 December, Donald Trump said the US had “defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Of the US troops, he said: “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Bolton forecast a slower withdrawal. “There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” he said. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

US vow to only leave Syria when Kurdish allies are protected

Bolton said the US needed to secure protection for the Kurdish militia members it had fought alongside from Turkey. “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops,” he said.

He added that US officials will meet with Turkish counterparts “to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain.”

US troops will remain in the tactically important region of al-Tanf, partly to protect against growing Iranian influence in the region, Bolton said.

The National Security Advisor also said the US was continuing to work with European and regional partners to seek a resolution for the hundreds of Islamic State prisoners detained by the US-backed Syrian opposition.

Securing guarantees from the Turkish government that they will not attack the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is likely to be a long-term project as Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organisation with links to domestic insurgents.

Fallout from the initial US decision to withdraw quickly from Syria

The US decision to pull out of Syria had been criticised by representatives from both major parties and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

“The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” McGurk wrote in a leaked email obtained by The New York Times. “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered.”

Speaking at the White House, Trump also suggested a slower withdrawal was now on the cards. “I never said we are doing it that quickly. But we are decimating ISIS,” Trump told reporters.

Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will continue to meet with regional leaders to outline the US withdrawal plans and reassure allies that the US is committed to the security of the region.

Header image credit: Gage Skidmore