President Donald Trump is telling people that the United States will soon pull its military out of Syria — even though the people Trump put in charge of dealing with the Syrian civil war don’t exactly agree.
“We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump told officials at an event in Ohio Tuesday. “Let the other people take care of it now. Very, very soon we’re coming out.”
That’s apparently news to the State Department, whose spokesperson told Axios that she didn’t know of any plans to end the U.S. military presence in Syria. And as recently as January, Rex Tillerson (who headed the State Department until Trump abruptly fired him over Twitter earlier this month) called for “continued involvement” in the war-torn country.
“We understand that some Americans are skeptical of continued involvement in Syria and question the benefits of maintaining a presence in such a troubled country,” Tillerson said at the time, according to Buzzfeed News. “However, it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”
Mike Pompeo, who’s been tapped to replace Tillerson, has also stressed the importance of remaining in Syria as long as it takes to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — not ISIS. In July 2017, the hawkish Pompeo declared, “It is difficult to imagine a stable Syria that still has Assad in power. He is a puppet of the Iranians and therefore it seems an unlikely situation where Assad will be sitting on the throne and America's interests will be well served.”
In an even more confusing twist, just hours before Trump’s comments, a spokesperson for the Pentagon also suggested that the U.S. military intended to remain in Syria for a long, long time.
“Important work remains to ensure the lasting defeat these violent extremists,” Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told reporters, according to CNN. “Our commitment to win must outlast the so-called physical caliphate, and the warped ideas that guide the calculated cruelty of ISIS."
In other words, maybe “knocking the hell out of ISIS” isn’t the best way to measure time or success in Syria.
Cover image: RICHFIELD, OHIO - MARCH 29: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd gathered at the Local 18 Richfield Facility of the Operating Engineers Apprentice and Training, a union and apprentice training center specializing in the repair and operation of heavy equipment on March 29, 2018 in Richfield, Ohio. President Trump's remarks centered upon infrastructure investment in the economy and labor statistics. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)