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U.S. President Donald Trump says he will be withdrawing the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria at a "proper pace," while at the same time continuing the military's fight against Islamic State terrorists.
Trump, in a Twitter remark Monday, set no timetable for the withdrawal and derided what he said was "a very inaccurate story" in "the Failing New York Times" that said Trump was retreating from his December 19 announcement for a quick pullout of troops, which administration officials at the time predicted would take about 30 days.
John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, said Sunday on a visit to Israel the U.S. troops would stay in Syria until Islamic State is defeated and the Trump administration received assurances Turkey would not target Kurdish fighters allied with American forces.
Trump, in his tweet, said, "No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!"
When he made the troop withdrawal announcement, he said on Twitter, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."
Trump overruled U.S. national security officials and surprised allies with his announcement last month that he was withdrawing the U.S. troops from Syria, where they have carried out air attacks on Islamic State and Syrian positions and advised Kurdish fighters. Trump's action, meeting a long-time pledge of his to get U.S. troops out of Syria, drew widespread protests, including from Republican lawmakers, and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Bolton, after meeting Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed the U.S. troop withdrawal with officials Monday in Turkey. He said Sunday that protection for the Kurdish fighters who have helped battle Islamic State militants was one of the necessary conditions for a U.S. withdrawal of its troops in Syria.
"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, but also so that they meet the president's requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered," Bolton said.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters, known as the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG, to be linked to the PKK, a Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Bolton said there is no timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, but the process would not be abrupt. His comments were the first public confirmation that the administration had backed off an initial indication that it would pull out the troops within 30 days.
Bolton said Trump "wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed," referring to Islamic State, which once claimed Raqqa in northern Syria as the capital of its religious territory in Syria and Iraq.