Trump slows Syria withdrawal, agrees to 4-month timetable

The New York Times report of a four-month timetable follows an Israeli official’s comment that Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked for a more gradual pullout.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

President Donald Trump has agreed to give the U.S. military about four months to withdraw the 2,000 United States troops in Syria, administration officials said on Monday, backtracking from his abrupt order two weeks ago that the military pull out within 30 days, according to a report in The New York Times.

The U.S. president had already gone on Twitter on Monday saying that “we’re slowly sending our troops back home.” The newspaper report also followed the comments of a senior Israeli official that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked President Trump to make the withdrawal from Syria a more gradual process. The official was quoted by reporters traveling with the prime minister on his current state visit to Brazil. He said that Netanyahu had made the request during a phone call with Trump.

The Israeli prime minister is expected to discuss the planned Syria pullout when he meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasilia Tuesday. Both men are in Brazil for the inauguration of Jair Bolsonar as president. Netanyahu also has a meeting planned for Sunday in Jerusalem with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.

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The New York Times cites two U.S. officials as saying that during a surprise trip to Iraq last week, Trump privately told the commander of American forces in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, that the military could have several months to complete a safe and orderly withdrawal.  On Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters that a “pause situation” on the troop withdrawal was in effect.

In addition to the Israeli call for a slower withdrawal, Trump was also heeding warnings from current and former American military leaders that leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against Islamic State (ISIS). U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned after the president’s initial announcement of the pullout. Trump said on Monday that “ISIS is mostly gone,” and that U.S. troops would continue “fighting ISIS remnants.”

The U.S. newspaper report says that Trump’s latest plan left open the question of whether an orderly pullout from Syria would happen. The paper refers to military planners who say that they need about 120 days to carry out a withdrawal that allows time to decide which equipment to move elsewhere in the region, leave behind with allies or disable to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Syrian government or Russia or Iran.

Netanyahu has maintained a sometimes rocky relationship with Russia, holding contacts with President Vladimir Putin but facing criticism periodically from Moscow for acting too dangerously in attacking within Syria. Israel has vowed to continue acting against the Iranian presence and involvement in Syria and Tehran’s assistance to the Hezbollah terror group.