President Trump on Monday continued to defend plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria but asserted they are being sent home “slowly,” adding to the uncertainty about the timetable of an action that has drawn widespread criticism.
Earlier this month, the White House announced that the United States would move quickly to withdraw roughly 2,000 troops from Syria, a decision that defied the warnings of Trump’s top advisers. At the time, Trump justified the move by saying the United States had defeated the Islamic State militant group in the region.
In his tweets Monday, Trump asserted that the group also known as ISIS was “mostly gone” and wrote that “we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”
“If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero,” Trump said, also dismissing some of his critics as “some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived.”
He added that he was making good on a campaign promise to address “NEVER ENDING WARS.”
The tweets came a day after Trump had lunch with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an ally on most issues but a staunch critic of the president’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Afterward, Graham described Trump’s decision as “a pause situation” rather than a withdrawal of troops, telling reporters, “I think the president’s taking this really seriously.”
“He told me some things I didn’t know that made me feel a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria,” Graham added.
Graham was among several Republican lawmakers who harshly criticized the White House’s original announcement, saying leaving Syria would be a “disaster on multiple fronts” and disputing Trump’s contention that ISIS had been defeated.
Trump is also being pressured by Israel to withdraw troops from Syria more gradually.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to press the issue Tuesday in a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brazil, where both are attending Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration.
Military leaders who have taken issue with Trump’s announcement on Syria include retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
During an interview Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week,” he said that he doesn’t believe the Islamic State has been defeated.
“I think ISIS is as much an idea as it is a number of ISIS fighters,” McChrystal said. “There’s a lot of intelligence that says there are actually more ISIS fighters around the world now than there were a couple of years ago.”
Trump returned to the subject of Syria later Monday morning, complaining on Twitter about the news coverage he has received.
“I am the only person in America who could say that, ‘I’m bringing our great troops back home, with victory,’ and get BAD press,” Trump wrote. “It is Fake News and Pundits who have FAILED for years that are doing the complaining. If I stayed in Endless Wars forever, they would still be unhappy!”